Gold Flake Paint
Issue Two Winter 2019
A Music Journal
Sharon Van Etten / The Twilight Sad / Conor Oberst & Phoebe Bridgers / Tiny Ruins / Jessica Pratt / Lucy Dacus / Martha / Free Love / 2018 Review & more
..A Gift... Thank you for buying this journal In exchange for your purchase, weâ€™re very excited to offer you TWO brand new EPs, thanks to our friends at Sooper Records â€“ the supreme Chicago label behind the likes of Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, Options, Sen Morimoto and much, much more. The two EPs are courtesy of This is Lorelei, the solo project of Nate Amos, who has previously been covered on GFP within his bands Water From Your Eyes and Thanks For Coming. This pair of EPs offer weird and wonderful pop music, full of scattered rhythms, clipped vocals, inspired samples, and decadent rabbit holes to disappear down. They are mesmerising and claustrophobic, the kind of music that tends to come alive in the small hours of the morning when the world is a decidedly different place. All you have to do to get the music is go to the website listed on the download cards and enter your two unique codes. If you have any problems please get in touch with us! Thank you to Sooper Records. We hope you enjoy what you find...
gold flake paint
Created by Tom P. Johnson Design by Tom Rogers Edited by Hannah Boyle Writing Team: Sammy Maine Maria Sledmere Mel Reeve Hannah Boyle Lior Phillips Trevor Elkin Clare Archibald William Caston Cook Paul Bridgewater Andrew Hannah Clare Patterson Katie Cutforth Logo design by Emer Tumilty GFP would like to thank: Community Records, all the wonderful advertisers, all the wonderful stockists, Harriet & Chalk Press, Phil Randall, Robin & Clash, Stack Magazine, Robyn Janine, Hannah Currie * 2019 Subscription available now Subscribe: goldflakepaint.bandcamp.com Sponsor: patreon.com/goldflakepaint * To advertise in Gold Flake Paint: email@example.com To stock Gold Flake Paint: firstname.lastname@example.org General enquiries: email@example.com
gold flake paint
Hello. While it feels only right to do so, it’s probably not the most sensible idea to save the writing of this letter until the very end of the creative process. It should act as the proverbial cherry-on-top, but, such is the way, we’re currently deep in panic mode. What have we forgotten? Which album have we misspelt? Who have we forgotten to credit? But here we are anyway. And, luckily, today is one of those crisp winter days in Glasgow, bright and bold blue skies, sparkling white grass, the kind of weather that offers a little nook to retreat into, where we can forget about the finer details for a while and take stock, take a breath. I’m remembering the start of this process. The strange slump of summer, with all its troubles, and then the wild ride and rush of Issue One, followed by the subsequent decision to try and make this a full-time publication. I remember the self-doubt and questioning. I remember, also, the realisation that we had half the time to make Issue Two than it took to make that first journal. But dive in deep enough and these things have a way of working out. You just keep your head down and get to it and hope you find yourself, well, right here. At the other end of it. Just about on time, and blown away, once more, by what our small team has managed to achieve. We hope you enjoy this Issue. It was written in the depths of winter and, as such, it offers a lot of reflection but also, hopefully, a heartening glance f o r w a r d s . If you’re new to GFP, welcome! If you’ve been here before, welcome back! Thank you for returning. Issue Two is bigger. More pages, more words, more photographs, more artists. We have Sharon Van Etten on the cover, which is hugely exciting. Her music has been a better companion than most over the past decade. We also have a poignant interview with James Graham of The Twilight Sad. As I type this the band are at Number 5 in the mid-week album charts, which is astonishing and couldn’t happen to a better bunch of people. Anyway, I’m not going to list everything that we have for you. The contents page is just over there. So go and read and listen and please help spread the word with your pals if you know someone who might like this funny little thing we’re making. Please don’t miss the free music we’re gifting to you - all the details are on the inside cover! Thank you for being here, it means more than we can say. Best wishes, Tom Johnson Founder, Gold Flake Paint
Inside 10 Better Oblivion Comunity Center
28 Tiny Ruins
80 Mat Riviere
16 The Twilight Sad
32 Sharon Van Etten *
24 Queer Persona in Pop
47 A 2018 Soundtrack
97 Kat Gardiner 102 Music Reclamation
90 Jessica Pratt 112 Free Love
118 Gia Margaret
106 New Music
Welcome to the
OBLIVION COMMUNITY CENTER
better oblivion community center
A new, surprise collaborative record from Phoebe Bridgers & Conor Oberst brings together the very best work from both artists - and immediately sets a benchmark for 2019. In an exclusive new interview we speak to both of them about the roots of the project, and how it all came to b l o s s o m. I remember the first few times I listened to the Phoebe Bridgers album, discovering the way she’d mostly stripped the paint away, the sheen of those two initial singles mostly rubbed off to reveal just the rust that lay beneath, all weathered and c r a c k e d. I remember an early conversation about the same album, trying to find another way of saying “It’s wonderful… it’s just so fucking sad.” There was no other way though. Eighteen months later it’s still wonderful. It’s still so fucking sad. I remember something else from that same conversation, another way of defining the sadness at its core: It’s kinda like listening to early Bright Eyes... I remember the first time hearing Conor Oberst’s voice, being just young enough and just old enough for it to feel like a world I didn’t really know existed. The tone, the scratchiness, the way the words were used, how his mouth flipped them around and spat them out. I remember really falling for Bright Eyes in a way I never had done before. The music hurt. It tormented me. It sucker-punched me. It was the friend I didn’t have, the brother I’d never had. Then it aged with me. It grew as I grew, it found new shapes and forms and ways of behaving as did I - that were prettier, more robust, a little more hopeful. I remember the first time these two worlds met within my own world. A cold Edinburgh night at the start of 2017, a few months before Phoebe released her debut album, an opening spot on Conor’s solo acoustic/piano tour - and still one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Both of them were stand-outs in their own unique way: Phoebe as the spirited underdog, such is the way
of the support slot, Conor splitting the night in two in suitably rousing-but-vulnerable fashion. And then both of them together; a dark stage, a pair of spotlights, a wonderfully tender sharing of Conor’s ‘Lua’. Two voices that instantly felt like they belonged together. A meeting of magic that can’t be faked. And now here we are. Kept under wraps for an early-year treasure, Conor and Phoebe, together, are now Better Oblivion Community Center - a new band fronted by both, with a supremely stellar backing-band-of-friends to accompany them. Their self-titled record is a thing of magnetic beauty; not a meeting of their worlds but a gleaming new one they’ve created for themselves. It’s also released right now, on digital platforms, with a physical version to follow in February, via the Dead Oceans label. The self-titled record is not (only) a series of quietly-strummed duets. It’s more than that. It’s bold and emphatic. It’s ten songs of scorched sentiments, it’s a collection which takes its dues from the high-school bands they both grew up on, one which sometimes retreats to tender balladry (the stunning ‘Service Road’) but also tears off its sleeves and truly lets loose (the punchy ‘Dylan Thomas’ and ‘Big Black Heart’). In all of these ways and more, it’s a record that surprises as much as it enchants. One that can punch as well as quiver and shrink. It’s a detailed, enigmatic, and wholesome beast. It’s a heady rush. It’s
words & interview Tom Johnson
t h e
photograph by Nik Freitas
l e t t i n g
gold flake paint
Gold Flake Paint
I first saw you play together almost two years ago now, and it seemed to be a really natural pairing. Is that what inspired working together? Was there an immediate desire to do so?
Conor Oberst Well, I sang on Phoebe’s record and she mixed her album here with (Mike) Mogis. Also we knew each other from around LA and stuff. But I guess post that tour is when we wrote the first song, which is actually the first song on the record: I Didn’t Know What I Was In For. It all sort of snowballed from there. Phoebe Bridgers I was just getting to know Conor then. Conor sang on my record, but only remotely. I was mixing with Mike, but Conor and I hadn’t hung out that much, which is so weird in retrospect. And
better oblivion community center
that he would want to do this with me. It was so natural, though. It was also cool realising that he’d never really written with people before. Me and my friends write together all the time, for each other’s projects or just when sitting around. It was cool knowing that he’d never done that. I was really excited. CO Totally. The idea for the band, and the record, isn’t quite a throwback, but a bit of a return to some of the bands I loved in the 90s, or when I was growing up, where there were two singers that kind of sing the whole time together. I always thought that was a cool style of band to have. I maybe had that in my first band in high school, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a dual type thing. I think it’s cool when bands have two lead singers that sing together like that the whole time. Like a rock band approach as opposed to what other people might expect. We definitely wanted to avoid the ‘sulky duet’ tag.
“I was completely blown away by her record. She has one of those voices that doesn’t come along that often.” - CONOR OBERST then he asked me to go on that tour, and that was definitely the most time we’d ever spent together. He played a show in LA that I had opened for, which was one of the first times we hung out. He played a Replacements cover and after the show I said that was so good and so cool, I fucking love The Replacements so much. Then on that tour, right at the start, after one of the first shows, he came up to me and was like ‘Hey dude, I’ve got this crazy idea. I know you love The Replacements, so I think we should start a band together, and we should sound like The Replacements!’ - and I was just like ‘What the fuck are you talking about?!’ We wouldn’t write a song together for about six months after that, but that was when the first initial idea came.
GFP How collaborative was the process? PB It was pretty much 100%. Even the ones that were mostly based around my lyrics, or mostly around Conor’s lyrics. Whatever space wasn’t being filled initially was immediately filled by the other person, if that makes sense? I’ve never really had anything that collaborative happen before. OC I think that was due to getting comfortable enough with each other’s process? To have that ability to say what you really think, and really edit another person’s work. It takes a lot of trust. At least on my end. Knowing that
What was it about each other’s work that grabbed you? CO I’m not alone in this, but I was completely blown away by her record and I think she’s an amazing writer. She has one of those voices that doesn’t come along that often. The limited times we sang together in a live setting it was like, wow, this sounds really nice. PB I mean I was, and am, the biggest Conor fan ever. I’ve loved all of his bands, as a teen and an adult. I was just super stoked. Getting to know Conor at the beginning it never crossed my mind
How did you find that process then, Conor? CO I mean I’ve obviously been in bands before; Desaparecidos and things, which had a band writing requirement. Or once in a blue moon I’ve sat down with a friend and tried to make something. But honestly, that’s always been pretty hard for me. I think of writing as a solitary situation. So it was really cool to do that, from the beginning. I remember when we’d written maybe two songs together - and I really liked it, I thought it was worth putting some more time into it. We didn’t know it’d be a full record at first, maybe just a single or an EP, but as we went along the songs kept piling up and we got more and more excited about it. In the end we just said fuck it, let’s make a full record.
Phoebe’s really good at it and having her there really pushed me a lot. If I had an idea that was sort of half-baked, that I’d maybe just gone along with, she was always saying that we should work on it more until we really liked it. I think that level of work ethic, and perfectionism, and to keep refining it until we liked it even more - that was a good force to have for me. Sometimes I’ll just write something quickly and then immediately jump into the next thing. She’s much better at going back and revising.
better oblivion community center
Was it a case of you guiding them, or did they have licence to improvise? PB I think every person we asked we guided pretty heavily, and they were pretty down with that. Would you agree Conor? CO Yeah I think so. It’s always about finding that balance, of letting a bass player do their thing - but obviously they realise that it’s our record. Phoebe and I are pretty opinionated. That was another thing I thought was cool; getting an inside peek into Phoebe’s processes. She already had
“Whatever space wasn’t being filled initially was immediately filled by the other person. I’ve never had anything that collaborative before.” - PHOEBE BRIDGERS PB My favouring thing, which feels a bit like cheating, but I guess it’s fine because we’re in a band together, was when I’d have an idea for a big concept. I’d say, for example, that I really wanted to do a song about Fourth of July and how sad that is, and then Conor would just run with it and write an entire song with my idea - that was way better than I could have come up with. It’s like I would come up with the thesis idea and Conor would write the entire thing. That was fun and super interesting and has certainly never happened with anyone else before. GFP
At what point did the rest of the band come in? CO I think we’re both very lucky to have a lot of talented friends, and we did the record n LA so there’s obviously a lot of musicians who live out there. We ended up having two different rhythm sections. Carla Azar who’s a really amazing drummer, she’s in that band Autloux, then there was Anna Butterss, who’s this really fucking crazy jazz-bass player, who’s probably over-qualified for our project! But they came in and played on half the songs, then we got Wylie Gelber and Griffin Goldsmith, the bass player and drummer from Dawes. They came and played on the other half. So that was the rhythm section. Then this guy Christian Lee Hutson who’s really good friends with Phoebe, he ended up playing on the record and actually writing a little bit with us. Then I called in an old favour and got my buddy Nick Zinner from Yeah Yeah Yeahs to come and shred some guitar, which is always a treat.
a lot of production ideas while we were writing the songs, which I appreciate because my mind works like that sometimes, but not as much as hers. I think it’s cool when you already know there’s something you’re going to take out, or thinking of drum concepts, as you’re writing. PB I feel like my biggest job on this project was yelling at these really amazing players and telling them to stop being so good! Stop being able to play drums! You should play like a fourteenyear-old with a Do Not Enter sign taped to your bedroom door. We don’t want anything fancy! But it was super fun and everybody seemed to immediately get it. We didn’t have to really explain it to anybody. GFP
Did you ever discuss themes? Do you feel like there’s a narrative arc to the record? CO It’s funny. We’ve been doing press for a couple of weeks and everyone keeps saying: “There’s a big theme of death on this record..” And we’re like, well yes, but that’s also on everything that me and Phoebe have ever done! It’s always about life and death, so I don’t think that’s breaking the mould at all. I don’t think we really discussed anything ahead of time, did we Phoebe? I think as we wrote them they started to all fit together. PB Yeah I feel like it kind of emerged. I don’t think we really talked about it at all. It makes sense to me; what was second nature to talk about and what would have been weirder. The album makes sense as a cohesive thing but it wasn’t any kind of plan that we had.
gold flake paint
better oblivion community center
Did you just write the songs that appear on the record or did you choose to let go of some too? PB It became quite obvious, with the little ideas I was having, which of those were in line with this project and what was in line with my solo project. But, saying that, we wrote all of these songs pretty close to each other so it was kind of all I was working on for a minute. I think another reason it’s so cohesive is that we wrote it all at once. CO Yeah, I agree. It was all pretty consolidated within six months. For me, they were always kind of in their own box of songs. If one of us had even just a seed of an idea we would show it to the other and begin building on it pretty fast. I didn’t have to think too much about what was right for this project; they were all written with this in mind. GFP
Were either of you ever surprised by what the other brought to the table? Or the way in which they worked? PB I have this thing where I feel like I constantly have to apologise for my ideas - even when I’m playing for someone who doesn’t even fucking play music. If I play someone an idea I’ll just constantly be talking over it so if they do have any criticism I can hide behind the pretence that it wasn’t finished yet or something like that. Conor doesn’t have any of that. He’s just like hey, here’s my idea. So it was nice to be able to insert myself into that a little bit, and trust each other to tell the other if it was bad…or great. GFP
Have you managed to carry that forwards? PB I hope so, yeah. I mean you’d literally have to change that thing in my brain to not to do that but I do think it’s gotten better since this project, definitely. CO For my part, obviously I knew Phoebe was a great singer and she could write sweet songs, but just having her natural ability when it comes to melodies and harmonies was really something. In the same way she was saying about having a vague idea and I would run with it, I felt the same way with the melodies. I have a pretty
Better Oblivion Community Center LP is released on 24th January (digital) and 22nd February (physical), via Dead Oceans.
better oblivion community center
ragtag, limited range to my old vocal styling, but I can hear when I think there should be a note we can reach for, to make it even catchier or feel more satisfying. I feel like I got to the point where I could convey that in my Leyman’s terms and she would instantly know what I meant, and find a harmony. That was so great; that something I would struggle so much with just comes so naturally to her. GFP
You’re probably already bored of answering this, but where did the band name come from and what’s the idea behind it? CO I think we wanted something that was kind of long and interesting; something slightly emo! I thought it was a nice selection of words strung together. It’s a bit of a bleak sentiment, but I feel like with the word ‘Community’ in there it’s a bit of ‘you’re not in this alone’ camaraderie. Which is good for whatever dystopian wave we’re all riding right now. But it’s funny, all the label ideas and videos are very much driven by the idea that it’s a real place, which I think is really fun. Especially because the record is coming out with no warning; it’s kind of cool that it has a mysterious ring to it all. GFP
Collaborations such as this are actually pretty few and far between. Were there any previous records or projects that you took inspiration from? PB I think, as far as inspiration, we just talked about all the music we liked. So there’s The Replacements, Guided By Voices. We definitely made a lot of references but I don’t think there were more than when making any other record. GFP
Maybe it was to just not sound like an album of duets then? CO Yeah, absolutely that! PB Totally. Trying to sound like a band and not a folky duet. It’s still the two of us though, so there’s definitely still some folky duets on there! CO I think that’s the one thing we were conscious of, to try and make sure it felt like it had its own identity, hence the band name. This is not just Phoebe Bridgers & Conor Oberst. We really hope it has its own thing going on…
gold flake paint
Wa r m
the twilight sad
Day s Col d
The Twilight Sadâ€™s James Graham on the exhausting balance of life; on finishing his bandâ€™s brilliant fifth album in the heart of a storm.
words & photography Tom Johnson
gold flake paint
It’s a grey and downtrodden morning, one of those days that feels like the world stumbled, like someone forgot to turn the whole thing on. The rain is lashing against the window, a reminder that it’s just as bleak out there as it is in here, where the strange half-light the weather is offering seems to bury the house under something unseen. It’s hard to shake the feeling that things have shifted, that it’s going to take a little while to fall back into place. Anyone who’s seen The Twilight Sad on their most recent tour has possibly awoken the next day feeling a similar way. Always a powerful, cathartic experience, the band’s latest shows, led by an ever-more expressive James Graham, are different once again, offering an exercise in exorcism; a battle to take something from deep down inside and throw it into the murky corners of whichever venue they find themselves, out into the night, through each one of us. In the heat of the moment, surrounded by friends and strangers, it feels startling, but even now in the aftermath, in a room of stale grey light, it still feels somewhat shocking; no longer a present disturbance, coursing through veins, but a shell-shock, a reverberation that sits heavy in the aftermath, in the head and heart. A reminder of so many things; of time passing, of journeys taken, of the strange, indefinable power of music and what it does to us. * Four and half years ago I sat down with James Graham in a park in the East End of Glasgow, ahead of his band’s showing at a new, one-day festival which never reappeared. That conversation found a band rejuvenated, preparing to release the album they desperately needed to make, an album that saved The Twilight Sad, most things considered. Nobody Wants To Be Here… really felt like a new chapter,
the twilight sad
a deep record that felt connected to what came before but also undeniably, beautifully, its own beast. Then, just as the embers began to settle on that chapter, along came Robert Smith and changed, well, everything. The Twilight Sad wouldn’t be less of a band had they not been hand-picked to tour the world with The Cure, but they’re certainly more of one for having done so. Greeted with great gusto and cheer by anyone remotely connected to the band, it felt like the break they had always deserved - and absolutely needed. It felt, both then and now, as an immediate antidote for all those years spent battling against the odds, the catalyst for the next chapter, for many more chapters. Somewhere between the end of those shows with The Cure and the present day, The Twilight Sad made a new record. That’s the shortest of stories; the long version is, of course, much more complicated, much more messy, and much more beautiful; such is the way of the world. What sits at the end of that tale is the same though, and The Twilight Sad’s fifth studio album is the mesmerising, contagious, prickly ‘IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME’ - a testament to expansion, to progression, to keeping on keeping on. “If you’d said to me at that point, I’d have said no,” James says now, when asked if it’d always been the plan to take that amount of time away. “I’d be asking what the fuck happened? Why did it take so long? But The Cure tour came just as we were winding down and it added an extra year of touring on the end of it all. I think the year between getting home and recording the album…we really needed that time, every single one of us,” he continues. “We had to get home to digest what had actually happened. With touring there’s a lot of highs and lows, obviously, but The Cure tour was just a complete high the whole time. We did find ourselves saying, quite often, ‘Don’t get fucking used to this because we’re going to come crashing down’.
That’s possibly why it took so long as well. I came home and I’d find myself just looking at the wall and going ‘What the fuck just happened there?’ It was a lot to digest.” It wasn’t just the aftermath of that tour that left them dizzied. The past couple of years, away from music, have also been a constant rush of emotions, so many fluctuations; from changing labels and scrapping an album’s worth of music, to making the new record as it is now, through the full circle of life; of birth, marriage, and death. “A lot of people said to us that we needed to take advantage of The Cure tour,” James says, “but for our own health we needed to get home and get back to being who we actually are. It was great to do that but it’s also frustrating because even in the downtime all you’re thinking about is what you’re doing next, what’s coming next. So I had that year, and had some fucking amazing highs - marriage, finding out I was going to be a dad - but then I had also some real lows…” As the band’s new album title lays bare, life is an ever-swaying pendulum; for every action a reaction, for every burst of light an impending dark. Countering his marriage and the birth of his boy, James also found out that his Mum (a constant presence at ‘Sad gigs, alongside his Dad) was beginning to suffer from Dementia; that most cruel disease that so readily strips away the pages of the sufferer’s story. “To have all those highs, and have everyone excitedly asking what’s happening next, and then to have that happening in private was just horrendous and it still is,” James admits. “We’re still dealing with it, and trying to take each day as it comes. But it certainly influenced me and my mental state. When something like that happens it gets you thinking about the past, a lot, and the future too - what is that going to hold? That comes through on the record a lot, I think. There are a lot of nods to fractured memories.” Somehow, through all of this, as is so often the way, the band found the time and space to make the new record. In the aftermath of the last year, after everything that was occurring and had occurred, there was a desperation from James and Andy to have the record out as
soon as possible, both of them pushing for an October release - as if the very act of releasing this work would help draw a line under the most difficult of years. However, Rock Action - the band’s new home - saw things differently, stressing how important it was for them to take some time away, to not throw themselves back into the ruthless cycle that inevitably comes alongside an album release. “It was the complete and utter, 100%, best decision that they could have made,” James stresses. “Even after doing this tour, I’ve realised that it’s not just physically harder, because I’m getting older, but it’s mentally draining too - especially being away from home now. There’s so much more weight on everything.” As with any endeavour that grows a life of its own, often into shapes that you wanted, occasionally in ways you never really imagined, there comes a time when you have to take stock, to work out what you now want to get out of this thing that you’ve created. When that conversation also includes physical and mental health issues, it also generates another question: Why? Why carry on with something that can damage you, in spite of the goodness it also carries with it? “I’ve spoken a lot about the negative things but there’s so many positives too,” James stresses. “I’ve met my favourite people through this. I’ve met my wife through this. I still love doing it, and I still feel like I need to write songs, especially for my own sake; to talk about the things that are hardest. If I didn’t have that, I don’t know where I’d be. But then, without going on about Scott too much, I thought he had that outlet as well. So I’ve had to literally sit down and ask myself ‘Why the fuck am I doing this?’. But everyone is their own person and I genuinely know that doing all of this helps me.” Agitated, r e s t l e s s, noticeably lacking of balladry, The Twilight Sad’s fifth album is, quite simply, a beast of song. It’s as dark as ever before. It’s as tense and fraught as they’ve always been, but in bold new ways. It is, once more, a band not resting on their laurels,
gold flake paint
not finding contentment in their sound, but searching for new places to inhabit and explore, tiny fragments of light and all of the dark. For all the desire to sing it the praises it deserves, you get the sense that such a thing is less important than ever for James and the band; that, well, things really are different now. “I can look at all of our records and feel genuinely proud of what we achieved,” James says. “But I’m doing this for myself. I don’t know if that sounds selfish or not. If other people like it then great. The one reason we started to do all of this is still there and that means everything. When Andy sends me music, and I’m writing something, the best feeling I get is when something c l i c k s; when I write a lyric or a melody that is exactly how I’m feeling. That’s one of the biggest highs in this whole thing - and that’s when it’s just the two of us writing music together. It’s nothing to do with anyone else - until it’s finished and becomes something else, and begins to be important for other people.” And it really is important. From that astonishing debut record, all of those years ago, to the aforementioned reaction to their latest shows, The Twilight Sad remain a band that are powerfully valued and wholly significant, music that really matters to those of us that follow it, invest in it, stand in the face of it. “There are more people coming to see us, so people’s reaction to our music feels more in our face, more of a responsibility,” James says, once again seemingly toying up the positive and negative of each and every aspect of this world he finds himself in. “I am excited about the new record though, don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of it. I think it’s where we are right now and I’ve said what I needed to say in it. But then that can also be a scary thing,” he says, catching himself once again, giving himself over to the flip-side. “People can support you but it’s not always easy to hear how someone is feeling. It can be worrying for people to be exposed to that.
the twilight sad
But if I’m not going to be true then what the fuck’s the point in any of this? “You can use the new album title as a positive or a negative,” he continues, echoing an already well-used sentiment, “and that’s true now more than ever. You’ve got to have the sadness to appreciate your happiness. Life is always a balance. You can’t have the fucking highs all the time. The past year has really opened my eyes to that.” On top of things already mentioned, the past year also includes, of course, the passing of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, a loss that is still reverberating through so many people, near and far. For those that knew him best it has left a hole that will never be filled, an imbalance that will never be steadied. As far as The Twilight Sad are concerned, they lost a partnerin-crime, a band they’d quite literally grown up alongside, brothers in arms and so much more. “We were going to be tied to each other for the rest of our lives and that was something I was very, very proud of,” James states, with the kind of poignant simplicity that tends to overtake these kinds of conversations. Since Scott’s death, the band have been performing a cover of Frightened Rabbits’ Keep Yourself Warm every single night - which is as heavy, emotional, and gut-wrenching as you can imagine. For now, they are carrying his torch forward, as heavy as it is. “There are a lot of people coming up to us share stories, people who just really miss Scott. We can feel in the room that it’s more important that we’re doing this than ever before. But, as the rooms get bigger, the whole thing gets harder. I worry about saying something like that,” James admits, catching himself. “To say that this is really hard. But these tours have really opened my eyes. The shows have been fucking great but it’s definitely got us thinking about how we do this now. I need to be out here playing but I don’t want
“People can support you but it’s not always easy to hear how someone is feeling. It can be worrying for people to be exposed to that.”
people worrying about me. After the London show I was so drained I couldn’t function, and I don’t want to be like that. And people see that and think ‘Oh well, he was tired for a couple of days, here’s the world’s smallest violin!’, but it’s the lasting effect it can have on you; where you get home and sit down and you’re just fucking destroyed.” A couple of hours later, with James visibly shaken and affected after performing the aforementioned cover (in front of a Scottish crowd for the first time), the din from the heaving mass of bodies in front of him eventually subsides, and a lone voice rings out from somewhere within; four simple, powerful words felt by all: “You did him proud!” More simple, honest truth. Enough to break your heart all over again. “It’s important that we keep going and keep talking about Scott and playing his music,” James says. “Someone asked me if we were going to play Keep Yourself Warm at the Mogwai shows and I said of course we are. There might be people in that room who might not know who we are, who might not know who Frightened Rabbit are, and they might hear that song and find out who he was, find out what an amazing person he was, everything about him, and from that his music goes on. It’s going to go on anyway but we’re in a position to help with that.” There’s no doubt that such an immediate, visceral act is a help to some people in the crowd - but at what cost to the band themselves? Revisiting such a space night after night can’t be easy, let alone healthy. This is something James has spent a long time deliberating, however. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve questioned myself a lot over it,” he admits. “I worried about doing it, and I still don’t know if it’s the right decision. I can’t really hold myself together during it, but other people have been saying that it’s been good for them because it gives them a place to go to. If we can be that, if we can help people with that, then it’s more important than this record, more important than anything.
‘IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME’ is out now, via Rock Action Records.
That’s why I was saying that things are different now, that there’s so much more on us now - and I’m happy to take that responsibility.” And
Where the band’s previous record seemed to be most drastically informed by the quiet moments of retreat, a drifting sense of stark unease underlining it all, It Won’t Be Like This… sets its stall out early, immediately creating its own unique parameters, a new world to inhabit and explore. The heady synths and dense guitars, are snarling and set loose from the outset, barely retreating throughout. It’s a breathless display and on initial listens it masks James’ lyrics somewhat, his always-splintered words only gradually revealing their character over repeated listens. As ambiguous as ever before, there are still little moments of clarity, however, little spikes through the fog that begin to reflect all of the issues he’s been dealing with over the past couple of years. You could do well to remember that so many of the seismic shifts in his life have taken place in the time since he put his pen down. “The record was written before any of the stuff with Scott happened,” James admits, “but there’s so many coincidences. It’s fucking terrifying, actually. I don’t know how to explain that. It’s baffling and horrible.” For all of its emotional weight, though, it’s not all doom and gloom; the record is still pulling enough energy from somewhere for it to be the kind of album that can be clung to, as well as just a reaction to the crushing pain we so often face. “I really go to town on myself at times,” James continues, “but there’s also some hopeful stuff in there, which is different for us. I think trying to show that life can also be hopeful is a really important thing, especially these days. We all go through the dark shit, and some of us are going through a lot of it more than ever right now, but there’s got to be that light.
There’s just got to be…”
gold flake paint
the queer persona
Chris(tine and the Queens) and The Queer Persona in Pop Music Pop music has always been simultaneously a deeply heterosexual and a profoundly queer world. Permeated by flamboyance and camp since its inception, borrowing and stealing extensively from drag, cabaret and other queer subcultures, and more often than not being led by pop stars who are either explicitly LGBT+, or present themselves in gender non-conforming ways. Despite this, definitive public displays of queerness in pop were rare until the last decade or so; songs that take homosexual love as their subject switch pronouns and are accompanied by music videos featuring straight couples; stars were (and still are) coy about their sexuality, and didn’t publicly come out until late in their careers for fear of being ostracised or losing sales. As a result, many queer pop icons have had their sexuality erased by fans of their music – the number homophobes who cite themselves among Freddie Mercury or Elton John’s biggest fans is startling. But if gay love wasn’t allowed in pop music, camp certainly was, and while few artists explicitly discussed non-heterosexual romance, they experimented and rebelled against the straight world through character, costume and androgynous appearance.
The lines ‘Girlfriend don’t feel like a girlfriend / but lover, damn I’d be your lover’ appeared on the poster for her 2018 tour long before the latest album or even the lead single the lyrics come from was released, framing Chris (her new moniker – ‘TINE AND THE QUEENS’ was scribbled out from the poster in highlighter-green scrawl) in a power stance with her new shorthaired, single-earringed look. Displayed on a poster and separated from the single of their origin, the lyrics looked more like a poem, or an art piece in the vein of Jenny Holzer or Barbara Kruger; a short, sharp phrase imbued with meaning and primed to grab the reader and burrow into their thoughts. This hook encapsulates her new turn; genderless and sexy, full of longing and desire. It recalled for me another gender-defying anthem of romantic longing, namely the opening line of Prince’s ‘I Would Die 4 U’: ‘I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/ I am something that you’d never understand’ – a declaration of love for those who feel their gender exists somewhere outside of what language can explain.
* * * Christine and the Queens hit mainstream success in the UK with Chaleur Humaine (Human Warmth), a glittering record of open, emotionally dynamic synthpop, due in no small part to a festivaldefining performance at Glastonbury by androgynous, glimmering Christine (born Heloise Letissier). The album featured deeply personal ruminations on queerness, flitting from gender dysphoria to unbridled joy in one’s oddness. The record was a personal highlight of mine during a vintage year for music, and I played it incessantly on repeat throughout my summer, desperate for more when I’d finally exhausted the tracks through constant overplaying. words by Clare Patterson
The corresponding video is an orange-tinted tableau inspired by Charles Clyde Ebbets’ iconic photo ‘Lunch Atop A Skyscraper’, an image of hardworking, sweaty, dangerous masculinity. The scene opens with Chris sat on a girder, a white dove atop her shoulder, then cuts from ambient city noise to the songs computerfunk loop. ‘Boys are loading their arms, girls gasp with envy/F-f-for whom are they mimicking endlessly?’ she sings, tossing a young man’s cap into the city abyss, as if throwing away the violence of performed illustrations Robyn Janine
masculinity. A gang of male dancers crowd around her to back up a taught, spiky routine that owes a clear debt to Michael Jackson, full of androgynous hip thrusting, flexing and shadowboxing to the camera. ‘I love the scam of a macho man.’ Says Chris to The Guardian, and she inhabits the part while always winking sharply to the audience. ‘I wrote this record because I wanted to address the taboo of a woman being blunt and forward.’ Chris, in her more masc new look, seems to have become more comfortable with femaleness. Her incarnation from the previous album, when she still went by her full title of Christine and the Queens was a little more femme, a little less threatening to the heterosexual gaze, with sharply tailored 80s suits and a tousled, bob-length haircut, very French sexy. Yet the opening track of Chaleur Humaine declared proudly ‘I won/I’m a man now […] and there’s nothing you can do to make me change my mind’, later singing ‘she draws her own crotch by herself/but she’ll lose, because it’s a fake’. This discomfort with femaleness seems to have retreated on her new record, feeling freed from ideas of what a woman ‘should’ look like – in a recent interview, she comments to FADER: ‘I say I’m a woman, but I’m exploring desire as a force of chaos that surprises me. And through desire, I get to explore many different identities. I don’t feel like I’m trapped in my woman’s body. I’m loving that woman’s body, actually. I love also the versatility of it — how easily I can look like a young boy, if I want. And my eroticism is made of hesitations and doubts and being uncomfortable in lust.’ The video for third single ‘5 dollars’ features Chris surrounded by American Psycho-esque trappings of respectable, wealthy masculinity; expensive face creams, polished shoes, a tasteful, minimalist apartment – then opens a closet door,
brimming with symbolism, to reveal stacks of fetish gear, black leather glistening and metal chains gleaming. She piles on the leather, tightening straps and collars and chains, pouting and posing at the mirror, before layering on an 80s power suit, a bright red hickey still visible above the heavily starched collar. She snaps on a pair of leather driving gloves and strides out of her apartment serving perfect executive realness, a lesson in gender performativity 101. At one point she takes a shower, her skinny, scratched-up back to the camera, then sticks her tongue out to drink the water, looks into the camera with hazy, half-open eyes. She’s sexy, but it’s an implicitly masculine sexiness – somewhere between twinkish 90s heart-throb and buff Bond action hero; Dom sexiness; sexiness that is about having and wielding power, about acting rather than being acted upon.
TheYoutube comments on the video express both attraction and confusion – one says ‘I don’t know if she just made me more straight or more gay’; another remarks simply ‘I feel sexually confused’. On a song containing the line ‘some of us just have to fight/ for even being looked at right’, these reactions feel like a mixed victory – queer sexuality is at least not met with disgust, but is still seen as a curiosity, as something startling to the heterosexual gaze. Until reading these comments, I’d half-forgotten how many people still feel ‘confused’ by the idea of women being sexy without being feminine; my queer female friends and I responded only with teenage-crush fawning, the equivalent of our straight friends seeing Leo in Titanic ten years earlier, like it was our first chance to feel that way about a woman without shame. Sexual confusion has always been at the centre of responses to the queer popstar, as has deep, desperate, life-saving identification. What for the straight eye may be exotic, outlandish or curious, can be a lifeline to the kid growing into their blossoming queerness, realising they don’t experience love or desire or themselves the way their peers do. Chris describes her own version of this moment, watching
Michael Jackson’s film ‘Captain EO’ at Disneyland; “I remember being excited for the first time, sexually excited. At some point he’s dancing, and he’s opening his jacket, and there is a rainbow shining out of his chest, and I was like, oh! […] I know, it’s so queer! My whole life is queer.” I found Christine and the Queens when I was already relatively secure in who I was becoming – already at university, surrounded by queer friends in one of the safest environments to grow into myself, Christine and the Queens’ first album was more an affirmation of what I was already feeling than a discovery that people like me could exist, although I devoured her work with teenage fervour all the same. My first real, vital queer idol was David Bowie, as I’m sure he was for countless others. I bought a CD copy of ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust’ and lived in the emotional crescendos of its opener and closer, revelling in the cathartic, apocalyptic release of ‘Five Years’ and the sad, hopeful and soaring affirmation of ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’, clinging to the looping ‘you’re not alone/give me your hands/cause you’re wonderful’ like a talisman, somewhere to belong for a weird girl with a boys’ haircut in a small-minded, rural school. I dyed my hair Ziggy Stardust orange and styled myself with blue eyeshadow and sharplyhighlighted cheekbones, used makeup classes in drama as an excuse to pose for photos in the Aladdin Sane lightning bolt makeup. I looked ridiculous, but I felt free. Bowie’s star has fallen from grace in the queer community in recent years for good reason, in part because he later retracted his declaration that he was bisexual, claiming it to have been a part of his performance that he never felt comfortable with, but largely because he committed statutory rape with a fourteen or fifteen-year-old fan (her age differs between reports).This knowledge is deeply uncomfortable for anyone who grew up a fan of his work – as I deeply, desperately was – but it needs to be acknowledged if Me Too is to mean anything and if the music industry is ever to be a better place for women. I learned about this accusation after Bowie’s death – prior to this, what he had been to me was an icon of queer liberation, the potential to transcend the gender binary and become someone who seemed, not only neither man nor woman, but not of this world. His bisexuality, as a queer kid who’d only ever heard the word hurled as an insult towards questioning teenage girls, was a rare beacon of hope for me as I realised my romantic feelings were not only for men. Countless other young queer people also had this experience and, even upon discovering the crimes of your
former hero, that experience isn’t suddenly erased. Bowie is complicated to talk about without diminishing his misconduct, but his cultural impact – both upon music and pop culture, and as a former icon for the queer community, can be neither denied nor undone.
* * * From Bowie, and through my largely internet-based education, I grew a collection of other lights; Prince, Grace Jones, Annie Lennox, Patrick Wolf, Janelle Monae, even Lady Gaga in her now largely forgotten Drag King persona, Joe Calderone. I’m acutely aware that my decision to take Bowie as my idol is keenly informed by my whiteness – when Prince’s death followed Bowie’s by only a few months, one of the many outpourings of grief on twitter which stuck with me was the reminder that Prince was to black queer kids what Bowie was to white. Prince was always deeply explicit about the confines that gender placed on him - ‘I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/ I am something that you’ll never understand’ is still my favourite and most relatable of his lyrics - and he later changed his name to what became known as ‘The Love Symbol’, a merging of the symbols for male and female, an image that now, perhaps more than when Prince adopted the name, denotes a non-binary relationship to gender. On pitch-shifted single ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’, Prince alters his vocals to become the female voice of alter-ego ‘Camille’. It’s a song about wanting to be not only his partner’s male lover, but her female best friend, desiring a level of intimacy only a duality of genders can achieve. Even during the ’80s, where the androgyny of eyeliner-wearing boys and besuited girls was commonplace, Prince’s genderqueerness went much further. His iconic use of the colour purple, associated with the royalty of his title, but also with queerness, both the colour of gay pride and of pansies, a frequently-used and now somewhat reclaimed slur. His aesthetics,
too, went above and beyond 80’s pop flamboyance; angelic white-frilled shirts, crop-tops cut just below the nipple and, on the cover of album Lovesexy, posing naked and soft, surrounded by purple and white flowers, hands and legs covering his chest and crotch hiding any markers of bodily sex. Prince is known for his sexuality, but what is particularly noticeable about this is his softness, his lack of masculine aggression or need to appear physically dominating, a desire to be surrounded by beautiful fabrics, flowers, delicateness, the potential for softness and submissiveness to be a position of power and liberation. Prince’s protégé and natural heir, Janelle Monae, began her career dressed almost exclusively in black-and-white tuxedos, hair styled into a sharp quiff, at the centre of an intensely imaginative sci-fi world, a dystopia populated by androids and serving as a metaphor for black oppression. Performing as her android alter-ego Cindy Mayweather, Monae’s career has taken in a wide variety of influences, culminating in her most recent album Dirty Computer, a feminist-funk masterpiece clearly indebted to her late friend and mentor Prince. Largely ditching the androgynous suits for a much wider wardrobe, Monae has become an LGBT+ advocate, coming out as pansexual and making explicit references to her sexuality in her visuals; ‘Make Me Feel’ shows her torn between male and female lovers, while ‘Pynk’, a shimmering, provocative anthem to the
vagina, has Monae wearing vagina-shaped trousers, with her rumoured partner, actress Tessa Thompson, poking her head out from between her legs, an image that is fantastic and rebellious in its unsubtle-ty. The modern pop landscape is making more room for gender non-conforming stars; in addition to Chris and Monae, there are a wealth of others, including PC Music creator Dorian Electra, rappers Mykki Blanco and Angel Haze and sad-pop star Perfume Genius, to name a few. Even One Direction alumni Harry Styles has gone for a more flamboyant, androgynous look, and has been coy about his sexuality, making him a potential queer icon to many. * * * The name ‘Christine and the Queens’ came to Heloise during a dark period in her life – fleeing a bad breakup, she moved to London and was ‘rescued’ by a group of drag queens at the now-defunct Madame Jojo’s, the inspiration for ‘the Queens’ of her stage name. The theatricality of drag seems crucial to Chris’ whole creation, as it does to so much queer art. When asked about the difference between her and her persona, she responds ‘It’s the same thing. I’m just putting a theatrical form to my expression’, but the persona also seems to have served her well as a way to grow into herself; “I’m fully becoming what I want to become, thanks to Christine, so I’m going to head towards the macho
Clare Patterson is a writer and artist based in Glasgow. Currently studying Art Writing at Glasgow School of Art, she has previously written for publications including the Guardian, Bella Caledonia and ShortCom, on topics including gender, literature, class, film, queer theory and music.
and the tougher side”. So much of the queer experience is bound up in shame, in feeling that one is both too much and not enough – too masculine, too feminine, too theatrical, too flamboyant, too girly or tomboyish or boisterous or sissy, too far outside the box and not straight enough. The person you should be – the pretty heterosexual woman or the tough straight man – feels like an ill-fitting costume, and the real you feels like a crime. For the lucky, whose family and classmates are kind, this feeling grows only from inside and is never affirmed, but those lucky are few; Chris, now 30, references her own teenage experience on album track ‘What’s Her Face’ - ‘my name became a slur’ […] ‘it’s been years since that playground/I’m forever what’s-her-face’ - you grow, but the shame still sticks to you. Drag and queer performance have always played with the conventions and performance of gender, and are a natural home for those searching for a costume other than the one that’s expected of them. Theatre more generally offers the chance to slip off one’s skin and become someone new, to put on a mask and tell their truth, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde. Chris - and Bowie, Prince, Grace Jones, and countless others before her - perform versions and extensions of themselves that the wide space of the stage and the arms-length distance of fame afford them the room for; it’s hard to be too much when you’re filling a stadium with yourself.
References: The FADER (2018) The Guardian (September 2018) The Times (July 2018)
gold flake paint
Tiny Ruins and the song of myself In the burdensome social and political climate that we currently find ourselves in, music can often provide healing for tumultuous times. It is a warm embrace to cling to, a whisper or shout in what feels like eternal darkness, or something else entirely. What if we, as artists and musicians and writers alike, turn away from fragility, and delicacy, towards something darker, louder almost? Music as healing, as argument, as protest. We were only inches away Still had a long, long way to go We’re only inches away Still have a long, long way to go One of 2019’s first great records, Olympic Girls is Tiny Ruins’ new, and arguably best release yet, as gorgeously crafted and produced as we’ve come to expect from Hollie Fullbrook, but with a new edge; a new glint in its eye, a new splendour at its core. In its introduction, the new record is pitched as a celebration of experimentation and spontaneity, and it’s true to say that it feels more full-bodied and rich than either of Fullbrook’s previous two records. The greatness of Olympic Girls can be found in the balance, between what’s been and where we are now, but more so in the importance of what the album stands for. Simply reaching for new heights isn’t what makes a great record, but this collection of songs is powerful enough to stand alone as simply that, while also carrying a torch for women straying from the artistic words & interview Hannah Boyle
boxes they have been placed within, challenging their inner creativity, making music to suit the time, reclaiming space as their own. There is more to be found than simply poetry and beautiful soundscapes, there is also the desire to “bust through the ceiling, raise glass to the sky”, little by little, piece by glinting piece.
Gold Flake Paint
You said, ‘I think I’m the most excited about it than I’ve ever been about anything I’ve made’ when asked about Olympic Girls. Can you talk about the roots of the album, how the process began and flowed to a definitive end throughout the year you spent creating it?
Hollie Fullbrook While touring our last album Brightly Painted One, between sound checks, in motel rooms and on days off, I would work on little guitar ideas, chord progressions. By the end of it, I had several guitar parts that I knew had something special going on. I remember thinking of them as vaguely medieval in style, like little dances. They were quite fun to play. Songs began to develop from made-up chords and more diverse picking patterns. My first album was made up of simple folk songs, narrative vignettes almost. The second started branching out a bit more, hinted at a bit of progression with songs like ’She’ll be Coming ‘Round’…but this album saw quite a leap. I had slowly become a better guitar player, with all the touring and practice. I was able to do more and explore more on the guitar. It felt more natural to do photography Georgie Craw
so, and I was technically able to. So it felt a bit different, going into these new songs. Once our touring wound down I slowly found my way back to a place of feeling lyrically inspired. The first was ‘One Million Flowers’. It had a kind of explosion feeling about it. The lyrics were exuberant and kind of loose. So that set the scene for the songs that followed. I played it to the band, and it kickstarted the record. Things went slowly though.
I was pretty burnt out the year following Brightly Painted One… searching in a kind of numb state, drawing from things that gave me the feeling of ‘One Million Flowers’ - Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, planting bulbs and seeing their forms take shape out of nothing, the feeling of being newly in love, Van Gogh’s sunflowers. I really wanted to focus on bright colours. So Olympic Girls grew first out of numbness, then into a period of happiness and stability, and then towards the end of writing and recording, great sadness. I think of it as a sprawling, experimental, happy album… that still has a sense of foreboding.
a ‘gentle’ box that I’ve then felt constrained by. It’s more fun, challenging and truer to myself to put a stronger personality that has teeth into songs. But subtlety of lyrics demands subtlety of music to be heard. Most of what I try to do is to find that inbetween feeling. Because while gentleness, softness is in my nature, I’m also teasing, obnoxious, tenacious. I feel misread when people only get ‘gentle, lovely’ from it. And I think that’s an easy category to place women songwriters into, unfortunately. Maybe especially with this album, I’ve been more interested in pushing up against those expectations, and delivering lines that are
Is songwriting a transient occurrence for you? Do you fluctuate between writing in vast amounts and sometimes not at all? How do you deal with this? HF I know that the secret to being a more prolific songwriter is daily discipline. Sitting down at 8am every morning to write lyrics. But I can’t honestly say I do that very often. I do try to play my guitar for at least half an hour a day. Usually in the evening. That’s how I develop guitar parts/melodies/ the musical side - constant revisiting, and kind of reminding and searching, because if I don’t practice them, I forget the musical ideas. I record them as voice memos on my phone. Sometimes lyrics pop up, if you’re allowing yourself the window every day. But usually I feel very lyrically frustrated if I try to write every day in a ‘disciplined’ way. Lyrics for me are a mysterious thing - it sounds cliche but for me it’s true - they don’t seem to bend to 8am sessions. I do chip away at them in a notebook, but it’s usually more of a manic sort of splurge on my laptop when I have no other distractions. So it’s an intense window that sometimes occasionally comes before me and opens. The best lyrics, I think, are really ideas, distinct ideas. I have to be actively looking for them, seeking them, in the back of my mind… it takes a conscious effort - but it’s not a state of mind I can be in any time I want. I can’t get there every day, or even every week or month. I’m a really slow writer. I find that guitar parts - the musical ideas flow and arise really easily, but not so with lyrics. How do I deal with it? I don’t know. Just muddle on. It’s excruciating sometimes. Then it magically happens again. I want to be a prolific 8am-er, because I do feel the pressure to be writing more. But I haven’t reached that level just yet. GFP
Your songwriting has always exuded a lyrical tenderness akin to the most delicate and fragile of poetry. How important is it to you to capture this gentle wordsmithery, and does it always come naturally? HF Ha, I think that over time I’ve actually been trying to subvert gentleness. We feel sceptical of gentleness, fragility, tenderness right now. It doesn’t suit this time. As a writer, I’ve often felt herded into
visually strong in that poetic sense, but that can remove the floor from under the listener too, you know? I might not always get there but that’s the carrot I’m chasing. I have found that the songwriters I’ve met that are the most vulnerable and willing to be exposed musically are the gnarliest characters. And I think we all resent being characterised as these kind of whimsical, fragile creatures. But maybe that’s what also pushes us.
For many who create, art (be it music, poetry, sculpting) can emerge from an intense hunger to make something of their own. It can often provide a valuable outlet for release. Is writing music a cathartic experience for you? HF It allows you a kind of disguise sometimes. Or total control. Or the feeling that you’re being seen and heard. It has occurred to me that I may be my best or truest self in song; that it’s the best iteration of myself I can be, to anyone. At its best, it can feel like being set free. I come from a family of engineers practical, mathsy sort of people. Sometimes I find my natural thought process is infuriatingly mechanical. Like an engine that whirrs on and on, that is too analytical, too critical. I have trouble expressing myself
Howdy! Weâ€™re a record label. Sign up to receive postca rds, ea rly listens, and more at a rrowha wkrecords.com New releases coming soon from: Arbor Labor Union, Shepherds, Blush, and more...
clearly in conversation when I don’t know someone well. I try to fit in to whatever is happening around me, a kind of feeling of being out-of-body. Playing music has always been a means of coming back to myself. I started writing songs when I was fourteen, so the process feels like a very familiar, normal and necessary thing to do. When I’ve no time to write or noodle around on a guitar, there’s a sense of pent-up frustrated energy, and a physical urge to make that space. When I finally sit down to play, it’s just a really happy and contented feeling, a secure feeling. I feel really lucky to have that, and always encourage people to learn or keep up with an instrument, because it’s so cool to be able to sit down and play yourself a tune.
space - our underground practice room, just the four of us. So we are really exploring our own landscape, it’s not an outside influence. We wouldn’t have wanted to make the same thing twice. It’s maybe each of us being more expressive and comfortable with each other, too. We’ve been through a lot together as friends, touring companions, bandmates, since recording BPO in 2013. When I write a song, they are the first to hear it. We workshop that song, find its best expression…over time we’ve developed a trust in each other. I don’t dictate their parts - they come up with their own for our recordings. They each have strong musical personalities, and I love the ideas they come up with; it’s very rarely that I feel something is not serving the song.
When dissecting the career of musicians and artists alike, people often use the word ‘maturing’. Is this a word that resonates with you? How do you feel your craft has grown over the years? HF I guess I would agree that I am maturing. Girl, I’m a woman now. There is a certain magic to the early songs, I think, of any songwriter. They connect to audiences in a really different way. There is a kind of hardcore love for them because they are so pure. Tom said during recording that it felt like there was ‘a lot more of me’ in the new songs. I would tend to agree. So they feel like they’ve gotten closer to the core of something maybe. GFP
GFP In Olympic Girls we see you moving towards larger, more explorative soundscapes, a somewhat unexpected progression from the wistful strings and caressing guitar rhythms of your previous work. How was the process of expanding your musical palette in practice? HF I have a truly amazing band. Cass, Alex & Tom have been my musical collaborators for several years now. Tom Healy on electric guitar also produced this album and our last, Brightly Painted One. We recorded both albums in the same little
These new songs also called for ‘more of everything’. ‘One Million Flowers’ felt like I”d turned a corner in my songwriting. They were weirder and more complex musically, so they pointed us toward more lush arrangements. The recording process on this album was a gradual, glacial kind of thing. We approached each song with a real patience - we worked solidly, but in a relaxed manner. But then again, we also recorded each one fairly quickly once we were focused in on it. Weeks would go by before recording the next one. So each was in its own little dedicated vacuum, but within the same overall environment.
Olympic Girls is released on February 1st, via Marathon Artists (UK/EU) and Milk! Records (AU)
You’ve mentioned a lack of connection to a geographical space. How do you think this affects your sense of identity and in turn, your work? HF It’s a feeling I’ve had at times, moreso as a teenager. I moved from Bristol to Auckland when I was ten, and it shook my whole sense of self. But also ‘made me’ I guess. I’ve not been someone who has a strong sense of belonging anywhere in particular. Maybe feeling like an outsider has turned me towards writing more - a kind of ‘making sense’ of things. I kept a diary for many years as a kid/teenager and I think that’s what its purpose was. As I’ve got older, I feel quite connected to my immediate surroundings. I feel at home where I am living at the moment, and I try to nurture that feeling by going on walks and keeping a sort of routine. Visiting local op shops, for instance. There is a comfort in repeated visits to spaces that feel ordinary, where you know they’ll be playing a particular ‘classic hits’ radio station. It’s also people that I’m interested in, interactions, conversations - and they can happen anywhere. I’m a homebody in the sense that I love being in a space I have made my own. I like to make whatever space I am in more homely. I have started taking a candle around with us on tour, for instance. I think the idea of what home is, and also the dichotomy between the internal and the external world has always been a big part of what I write about.
The remarkable retur n of...
Sharon Van Etten words & photography Tom Johnson
gold flake paint
sharon van etten
“I’d always been enthralled by stories of wreckage,” Leslie Jamison writes in her book, The Recovering. “I wanted to know if stories about getting better could ever be as compelling as stories about f a l l i n g a p a r t . I needed to believe they could.” Though Jamison’s story is one of alcoholism and sobriety, the crux of her question is a still a pertinent one, and oh so relatable in the world of music. Thankfully we’ve spent the past few years moving away from the dangerously romanticised narrative of the struggling artist, but when applied to the creation of art, Jamison’s question looks at that idea from a slightly different angle. Artists don’t need to be in a bad place to produce something truly meaningful, but does the subject matter itself need to be drawn from such experiences? The history of music would suggest otherwise, with ‘upbeat’ songs consistently dominating pop charts. But, in terms of my own listening habits, it’s something I’ve often been considerate of; just how much I draw from other people’s woes to try and negate the impact of my own. Perhaps this question becomes even more entangled when viewed through the arc of one artist’s career. Sharon Van Etten picked up a guitar and began to make music, as an attempt to combat trauma. It’s the way she presented this, the rawness of it all, the sincere realness that drew so many people in, to funnel their own troubles through the prism of her work and see what was left on the other side. Which makes her recent return something of an unexpected one for many people; you could sense it in the response, see it in the words written. ‘Comeback Kid’ was bold and dazzling, jubilant even. Packed full of swagger, it framed Sharon Van Etten as someone, some thing, new. A creation. A character. Not her wilting, trembling voice creeping out from the shadows but a paragon of survival and growth. But that isn’t what’s supposed to happen. This is a world that expects our sad singers to sing us sad songs — not so that we can all reach a divine place of happiness together but so we have someone to languish with in the dark, someone who knows. It’s an unspoken but recurring theme in music discussion - and it’s absurd. Which brings us to Remind Me Tomorrow, Sharon Van Etten’s brand new album, from which ‘Comeback Kid’ is pulled, and her signature ode to progression; far more a towering testament of her skill and talent, than another chapter in the life of the companion that we (rather strangely) dream her to be. It’s magnificent. Daring and s ps p aa c i co u is , o nuanced and tempered. It’s beautiful too, but in different ways, in new ways, than we’ve come to know from her before. It was borne not from the midst of a struggle, but through personal fruition, through exploration, through desire and guts.
sharon van etten
* In the couple of years since she last finished touring the world, Van Etten has thrown herself (or been thrown) into so many different vocations that you almost feel overwhelmed just reading about them. “At the end of 2015 I was just so exhausted and I had a revelation that I wanted to go back to school and become a therapist,” Sharon tells us, when we sit down for a conversation at the end of 2018. “I never got a degree before so I was starting from scratch. I’m in my second year, just going part-time. As soon I took some time off the road I got offered an acting role,” she continues. “Then I got offered some score work. Then I got pregnant. Then, through a babysitter, I got into doing a little bit of comedy, and I did my first stand-up and dipped my toes into writing. Everything just fell into place I wasn’t seeking any of it! I had intended to just go to school and focus on my family, to develop a community around myself again.”
When we meet it’s a grey and wet day in London, the weight of listlessness so palpable it’s hard to ignore. It could be a Brooklyn day, where Sharon had just found a house when we last spoke to her some four years ago. It’s much less likely to resemble an L.A day - the city she’s spent the past few months in and where she plans to make home upon returning to the U.S in the new year. “It’ll be starting from scratch, which is a bit nerve-wracking,” she admits, “but I got taken care of out there, and I got taken under the wings of very sweet people who are very nurturing towards community.”
“The world doesn’t need a country record right now. It feels like a really tense time. This record is a reflection of that.”
sharon van etten
The “acting role” she nonchalantly mentions was, of course, The OA, a hugely successful Netflix sci-fi series which debuted at the end of 2016. “It was a total fluke,” she says, regarding her casting. “It’s funny that I even got asked to do it. The casting director saw me at a show when I was touring with Nick Cave, and then two years later, somehow, his notebook pulled out my name. I almost didn’t audition because I thought it was so radical. It seemed so out of left-field and I didn’t think I’d be the right fit. It seemed a bit bizarre but it turned out to be really fun.” In the middle of all these ventures, Van Etten also became a mother for the first time, (“It’s something you can never be prepared for. It’s life-long unpreparedness”) a role that’s far less untethered and far more vulnerable than anything she’s done thus far - even more so given the nature of her most prominent job. “I tried to reach out to some musicians I know that have kids and often tour, but it’s rare. It’s really hard,” she confesses. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet. Right now, he loves daycare. He loves other kids. He’s a social little guy. I don’t want to be selfish and I don’t want to bring him on the road just because I can’t handle not seeing him, I’ll just end up feeling guilty. That life is hard on an adult, so I have no idea how that might be for a kid. I chose this career, I don’t want to drag him into it. But at the same time, I want him to be exposed to travel and music and different cultures, to visiting new places. I think he’ll benefit from that in the long run, if we can make it work.” Van Etten has often spoken of not being able to work to a defined structure and that was also true of Remind Me Tomorrow. Constantly creating whenever the mood took her, these snippets of demos would, in turn, become a series of sketches that could be shaped into the fifth record in her truly special catalogue of albums. For all of the aforementioned scrutiny, - which lessened with the release of each new single - Van Etten sees her new record not as some colourful anomaly but just t he next step in a journey, plain and simple. “I feel like it’s a natural progression. It’s still very much me and a statement of where I’m at right now,” she declares. “It’s bold, but I’m also feeling more comfortable in my own skin. And I still need to challenge myself - it felt the right time to really do that.” For all its exploration of new territory, with repeated listens it is perhaps that sense of comfortableness that best prevails - not a resting on laurels, but a knowing appreciation that she’s-got-this. It’s going to be a hell of a ride but we’re in safe hands. Our job is to just sit back and enjoy the ride. “I think people are going to say that I sold-out because I used a producer, and all these things, but I made the fucking record I wanted to make,” she states with steely determination. “I’m getting so comfortable in my songwriting that I was finally able to work with a producer that understood my influences, and now I can wear those influences on my sleeve a little bit more. I was very much in control of the last record, and I brought in all my friends and family and it was so great, and I’m so proud of that record, but if it was to do that again I would just be making the same record - and people have that one already!”
Turnin’ the wheel on my street, It’s echoing,
my heart still skips a beat.
e c h o i n g , e c h o i n g .
echoing, echoing, e c h o i n g ,
gold flake paint
sharon van etten
As well as being conscious of covering old ground, the new record was also shaped by her falling out of love with the guitar; Van Etten instead choosing to create with keys and drones and the beats that would accompany them. “The guitar was just boring me for a while,” she admits. “I still love it, and it’s my first instrument, but it just got boring to work that way. I like all different kinds of music and I really didn’t want to put out a country record. The world doesn’t need a country record right now. It feels like a really tense time, both for myself and the wider world. This record is a reflection of that.” Such a bold experiment, for want of a better word, required an equally progressive producer, and, having tested the waters with a few different personalities, Sharon chose John Congleton as the person to help steer her ship through choppy new waters - a technical maestro who has worked with the likes of St. Vincent, Angel Olsen, and Xiu Xiu among so many others. “Working with John was amazing,” Sharon says now. “We had a trial run one day in the studio to see what it felt like it. He got Joey Waronker on drums, Jamie Stewart from Xui Xui, and Zach Dawes on the bass and I just got to sing live. I just got to sing. And it was so great! I could just be a performer for a minute and not have to wear any other hat. I could just clock out at the end of the day. I could just go home and leave it to John.” “He had a really interesting way of working,” she continues, “where he would give different references to each band member, so that it was all unfolding and we would be like ‘What the hell is going on?!’, but eventually it would all start to make sense as we got comfortable with the feel. It was really cool. We did ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Memorial Day’ on day one and I was watching these studio musicians just try things, no ego, no filter, just throwing the crazy shit out there.” As mentioned above, Van Etten has a way of working where she takes ideas as and when they come, not strategically planning to work within a frame but taking a more que sera sera approach to the craft - not that it alleviates the pressure at all. “On the wrong days I can think that everything sucks,” she confides. “But the older I get, the more I’m at peace with the idea of just letting it happen.” And happen it does, and did, with Sharon realising a year ago that she had around fifty demos to work with, should she choose to do so - a somewhat staggering number to the untrained eye. “Most of those things will never see the light of day,” she explains. “On days when I’m driven to play and write I do that, and if an idea sticks then I hit ‘record’ and play with it for a while; try and find a melody, and sing stream of consciously. I let it run until I’ve accidentally said a handful of things that are interesting, then I hit stop and put it away. I don’t try to over-analyse it that day. It’s more like a journal.”
With these sketches set aside, Sharon waits for the right moment to return to them, to find out if these seedlings can grow into something altogether greater in stature. “On the days when I feel empty and have nothing, I’ll go back to those demos and try to hear what it was I was saying and going through. Having that kind of p e r s p e c t i v e a n d d i s t a n c e ends up being really helpful. I’ll hear things I didn’t know I was saying.
sharon van etten
For this record I had about three years of going through that process,” she continues. “I had some help from my partner, narrowing those down. We had late nights where, once we’d put the baby down, we’d split a bottle of wine and listen to some of my ideas and he’d help me work through them.” That batch of ideas led to a still-somewhat-eye-watering forty songs to work with, each of them considered and then separated out. “This is so weird, but I had these different folders for them,” Sharon explains. “Folder A was my top songs. Folder B was a collection of songs that I was surprised other people liked. Then I had a mystery folder, Folder C, that was full of songs I didn’t know what to do with. I asked John to tell me what he thought, knowing these categories,” she expands. “He just laughed and said he’s already narrowed it down to 15 songs. I was surprised that there were a couple from the mystery folder. It felt very natural. Even though I was freaked out at the beginning I was definitely in that place, for the very first time, of wanting to completely let go of all control. I wanted to be in John’s universe, for him to make the choices.”
John’s universe, embellished to every corner with Van Etten’s courageous, remarkable song-craft has resulted in an album that feels immediately intriguing, the kind that you know is going to take a while to navigate, that needs time and patience to explore and understand. It’s complex and unique, thrilling even, in the way it folds and unfolds. There’s something particularly exciting about hearing Van Etten’s voice, previously so tender and raw, find new ways of letting loose, of reaching for the stars. “It still feels really fresh to me, and in some ways I still can’t believe it’s me,” Sharon says regarding her own feelings on Remind Me Tomorrow, taking her time to articulate something she’s not quite got to grips with yet. “Not everyone has to like this record, but I do,” she states, plainly. “For being as intense and dark as it is, I think it’s a very positive record. I also think that it’s a huge leap forward for me. Even just for myself, I’m glad I’ve made it and as I said before, I’ve made the record that I wanted to make. I’d experimented with other people before finding John,” she continues, “and I’m so glad I waited. I wasn’t ready before. I lacked conviction before. The people that I did experiment working with helped me figure out what it was I wanted, and helped to give me more of a vocabulary of what I wanted to get out of this record.”
gold flake paint
sharon van etten
In a parallel universe that is perhaps far closer than we might think, there’s another version of Sharon Van Etten, one that felt burned out from touring and bored with her guitar, that was finding her feet and flourishing down so many other avenues that she never made this record. There’s a version that was, perhaps, done with music altogether. “I just really didn’t know, either way,” Sharon admits in response to this hypothesis. “There was a lot of uncertainty there. I had to see if I was emotionally capable of doing it all again - and there was a lot to take in.” “You just never know if it’s going to come again,” she admits. “Making this record came a lot sooner than I had anticipated. It feels like it was just yesterday that I came off the road, despite everything that’s happened in the time since. We’ve only had a few warm-up shows so far but it’s been so fun to perform live,” she continues. “I still have a lot of practice for myself because it’s a different kind of singing this time, a different type of performance that I find really hard. When I was in the studio I was just like ‘fuck it, no one’s going to see me’ - and now they are! I’m not into choreography or anything like that but I need to learn how to hold a microphone. I’ve never really had a good swagger. I just need to channel my inner Joan Jett or Chrissy Hynde! I feel very lucky that I’m here and doing it again, though. It all feels really nice.” So, in response to that initial query, the answer is a resounding yes. People can and do make great art about times of trouble, both with retrospective grace and when buried under the sheer weight of it. There will always be a fascination with this side of people’s lives, whether as an exploration of the psyche or as a voice to tether our own consternations to - but it’s not the only path. Other people, those same people, can also find a way to make work that’s just as meaningful from a place of peace, work that exists and flourishes because of the sheer want to create once more, to discover new aspects of their lives and their endeavours. For all of its inherent weightiness, Remind Me Tomorrow is undoubtedly that; evidence of someone finding their feet, finding contentment and channelling such things into a new chapter, a new dawn to wake with. Whether by desire or design, the record saves its brightest lyrics for the very end, a flash of a smile just before the credits roll: “You
won’t let me go astray.
will let me find my way.
love me either way.
Remind Me Tomorrow is out now, via Jagjaguwar
A 2018 Soundtrack As the world continues to crumble around us, itâ€™s good to know that there are still songs and records with the ability to drag us through, to offer a hand to hold through the shadows. 2018 was a strange and perplexing year - here are some of the musical moments that kept our fire burning. We hope you find something new to cherish.
Grouper Kranky by Maria Sledmere photography Tanja Engelberts It’s Hallowe’en, the city is ringing with rain. The rain is ceaseless, it suffuses you from the minute you step out in it. It has its own chorus. Tonight, I attend church to watch Grouper play in a hall, among this blue glow that recreates the twilight of a timeless world. It’s a space I’m familiar with, the 5am light that is indigo, insomniac, that resists the easy assertion of day; that seems only to come from the space between. Tucked away in my pew, I fully surrender to Liz Harris’ spell, from the moment she begins singing. For what Grouper does it cast spells: her voice evokes these liminal existences, it pares the skin of the present away from itself. She waits a while before starting; the very act of utterance becomes understatement. Then the silver flakes of nowness settle around us like rain, we sink into the core she is peeling. It is a bittersweet sensation, it starts in the spine; it is utterly absorbing. Grouper’s latest album, Grid of Points (her first since 2014’s Ruins), was released in April of this year, and ever since then I have listened to it almost every night from start to finish. This is possibly an addiction, taking me from spring into winter. I have never quite felt this way about an album before; I listen over and over until it nearly gives me the bends. Clocking in at 22 minutes long, Grid of Points is the perfect duration of a dream — that arc of pressure and release. Its cover features a rectangle within a rectangle, geometric secrets; this image of white noise beamed onto the crackle and static of a sea, something magicked across the water. I imagine this as an accidental signal ghost, dwelling in the ‘uncanny interactive zone’ between screen and reality that Jeffrey Sconce argues is evoked by television. It is the projection, perhaps, of something missing: a spirit lost at sea. Rectangular, it accommodates the shape of every grief; it is not specific. I dwell in the flickers. The record conveys a melancholy openness that softly fluctuates between each listen. Harris’ voice makes of my room a kind of taffeta, bristling with the nebulae rushed in from elsewhere. I have been struggling to sleep for months, and there is scant solace to be found in the wee hours that gape with all this space, the long winter nights with their plenitude of emptiness, the pregnant clouds that hide the stars. Grid of Points implies a bird’s eye view, a reality flattened to points and vectors, lines drawn across like facets of white sapphire. I think of flows and intensities, glittering; I do not need to probe too deep. Grouper skims my emotion, makes of it mercury within the confines of field. Her lyrics are just sufficiently
vague to let me in, let me traverse a pallid world: in the opening to ‘The Races’ she simply sings, ‘It is raining’; in ‘Parking Lot’, Harris laments, ‘You disappearing in recline’. She notes these ghostly occurrences; the Other always dwells on the point of vanishing. 22 minutes is enough time to unfold a thought cartography, to slip into its silver crinkles. What Grouper makes is less a series of songs — progressing in linear motion, fitting the logical framework of an album’s journey — and more a kind of sonic emulsion. And yet, from start to finish, Grid of Points feels present, complete.
Its spareness invites glimpses of other temporalities: the rush of a coal train that closes ‘Breathing’; the airy whir of white noise throughout; the tentative piano notes, which feel sometimes like phosphenes, pressing against the listener’s perception. The sense of melodies spreading. Harris’ voice is the light we let in, a tinselled light, metallically tinged with myriad affects and pressures. ‘I am a child’, she sings on ‘Driving’, ‘It is a gift that my mother gave me’. This ‘it’, of being child is the gift of being that Grouper invites us into: stripping adult pretense into palest fantasy. Her songs lushly conjure the shadow spaces summoned by our thoughts at night. There is the dim violence of a crash, the accident that would impress our true passions for the person lost; the violence we need in ourselves to know the strength of a feeling. Often a meaning elides itself, as for instance ‘Breathing’ ends on the interruption: ‘I felt an urge to reach, but’ — her music sustains the unfinished quality of longing.
There is a form of astral self-healing where you carry a room in you, an inner space that is yours and utterly secret. Maybe its interiors change over the years, but it is with you ever and always; you just have to invoke it. Grouper presents us with the faintest blueprint of her room, its skeletal architectures halfway hidden — so we see it more in the chiaroscuro of shadow and light and glimmering dust than we do as anything solid and fixed. We see it in glimpses. Her song titles (‘Birthday Song’, ‘Thanksgiving Song’) often suggest domestic rituals or desolate locations where motion is normally contained (‘Parking Lot’, ‘The Races’). These places shed their cliché. What does it mean to say ‘Today, the land / Is slightly wider than the sky’? I get the sense that Grouper feels into her space, her voice constellates the points that make a room, a house, a shoreline, horizon. She trades with an economy of silence that is not fragility exactly (a word so often applied to her music), but something more like precision: I think of a deer picking her way through the snow, I think of someone sketching a space into place, pencil on paper. I think of an anaesthetist carefully assembling the proper dose, to send me into a long sweet sleep. I think of everything I don’t know about quantum physics. Grid of Points comes from the Pacific Northwest, specifically Wyoming, where it was recorded. As America’s least populated state, the setting explains the record’s sparseness; but the fact that it was put together in just over a week accounts for its closeness, its constraint. There is a fresh intimacy with every listen. The process of recording ended, apparently, when Harris came down with a high fever. There is indeed a sense of letting things out on this album, which produces a sort of rush; but then the settling sensation of a novocaine blanket, a cloud, a weathering. This is
the rain that falls on the church when Grouper plays, which fills the negative space around us. She commands the room for an hour, and in that time not a soul makes a sound. It is so quiet, my friend comments, that you can hear the soft click and reel of Harris changing her tape onstage. We feel so far away, but we are utterly there, seduced by her vapoury intimations. The energy of that coal train, travelling from left to right in one last gasp of binaural drag; the lingering on of industrial landscape, the languor of a lost world not quite gone. I see Grid of Points as a clearing within my evening. There is a specialness there in its evanescence, a cherishing Presence. It is not comforting exactly — Grouper’s universe is still mournful and porous — but it traces the phantom material of our dream selves, their monochrome auras, fleshing a vision that allows them to speak. Listening to it feels almost like ritual, praxis. I think of something the poet Francesca Lisette says about parsing vibrations of air, noticing yourself there, bundling atoms: ‘The process of filling a room & emptying it, with your patterns, movements, sketches, escapes. How moving brings us in contact with inner space’. Maybe it’s that feeling of looking up from the Great Plains, and seeing yourself in the Pleiades, scattered like language; finding a release in that fleeting glimpse of infinitude. I take the long route home after the gig in the church, one of the best in the year, ringing with stars and rain.
Haley Henderickx Mama Bird Recording Co. by Sammy Maine photography Alessandra Leimer “Face me entirely,” Haley Heynderickx commands on ‘No Face’, the opening track of her 30-minute album I Need To Start A Garden. It’s the beginning of an LP that feels wrought with tension, as raw hands poke and prod at a frustrated reflection. Whilst Heynderickx wrestles with her identity, there’s a cathartic resonance that allows the Portland artist to take a ragged sleeve and wipe away the fog of the mirror. Here, she stares directly ahead, looking for something to help her connect, to understand, to digest. She studies the softness of her small corner of the world, pushing aside the deafening raucous of the outside and the ringing in her ears to produce a subtle, ethereal examination of empathy. It’s this empathetic, universal comment on the world around her that makes I Need To Start A Garden a wondrous work of juxtaposing textures. Heynderickx sees the faint glow that can occur in our every day but she also understands that there is a darkness that can consume at any moment. Much like the heaven and hell she speaks of on ‘Jo’, Heynderickx knows the importance of absorbing both. There’s a slow sensitivity that surrounds the LP, a moment to take a breath between Heynderickx’s everincisive revelations. She plays with dynamics to ease us into the backbone of her story, careful not to scare us away or tell us too much, too soon. Rarely do her songs start with a bang and that’s where Heynderickx flourishes. She allows us time to process, starting with a subdued, muted introduction before bellowing into a purgative crescendo. She delicately picks apart the seams of the shackles that keep each piece of us together, allowing everything we’ve ever wanted to say to flow from our heavy, overwhelmed chests. “Maybe I’ve been worthless,” she exclaims, adding “maybe I’ve been worth it” on the almost eight-minute long track ‘Worth It’ – a piece of songwriting that works through our collective anxieties in real time. Elsewhere, Heynderickx’s ability to give her characters their own instrumental backdrop adds to the album’s riveting expedition. You can feel the limp arms of ‘Show You A Body’ through its tumbling piano and dexterous strums. When the bass enters, the keys become more frantic, urging this character to push and stomp their way to a much-needed revelation. Once they’ve reached it, they fall to the floor exhausted, as the song finishes with a simple, harmonious vocal. ‘The Bug Collector’ gives us a glimpse of someone gentle yet inquisitive through Heynderickx’s use of finger-picking. We can see them tip-toeing, eager not to upset the universe that’s given them a good day, a day where everything could be perfect if we’re careful enough to seal away the bad moments. Brass inflections give it a rich, velvety undertone, that makes this character produce a certain warmth
that’s charmingly innocent. These faceless characters continue on ‘Untitled God Song’, where Heynderickx objects to the notion that God is a white bearded man in the sky. While her vocals offer a quiet strength that describes her God as a relatable, imperfect individual, the upsurge of sliding guitar, trumpets and crashing symbols celebrates femininity in a way that feels exhilarating. Here, she throws a party for the women with big hips, big lips and knock-off Coach bags. ‘Oom Sha La La’ is perhaps the song that solidifies I Need To Start A Garden as an album that tries to find meaning in the world. As one of the LP’s shortest tracks and arguably its most catchy – thanks mostly to its melodic repetition – it’s also one of Heynderickx’s rawest surrenders. She speaks of throwing out soul milk and growing tired of a world indoors. “If you don’t go outside, well nothing’s gonna happen,” she realises, urging us to shake off the chaos of our insecurities, to open the back doors and feel the sun on our face for once. “I need to start a garden,” she adds, repeating the line louder and louder and louder like it’s the eureka moment that will finally solve everything. It’s a funny little phrase when you think about it but one that ultimately sums up the nurturing aspects we all need to remember, even when it seems silly. While these characters were invented to keep her company, Heynderickx knows that their collective affinity might offer us comfort during our darkest moments. Just like she explains on closing track ‘Drinking Song,’ there is always “light at the end”.
Half Waif Cascine
Botanical House by William Caston Cook It’s difficult to encapsulate with words exactly how Crumbling extends beyond the capability of my imagination, but it frequently does, without ever becoming challenging or difficult to listen to. The Korean duo combine familiar elements from folk, psych and electronica to create a startlingly unique experience. Tiny sparks ignite. Glimpses of melody coalesce to paint vivid pictures. Transporting the mind’s eye to epiphanies we wouldn’t otherwise live through, moving effortlessly, cycling through tones, genres and emotions at will.
Each song does so much, travels so far, it’s that perpetual motion which makes the album so distinct and enjoyable. Pausing long enough in each space to allow for moments of wonder at the breadth of the surface but not the depth of the water, which can only be navigated by frequent listens. Songs are held together by delicately fingerpicked guitars, forming a spine where all else is fluid. Arpeggiated synths mirror in their own way, starting with a whisper, using its own echo to build momentum. Melodies burst into the sky then fizzle out in the dark like a dying firework. Leaving behind an awareness that something once occupied the space you now feel.You can sense it. Indulging that resonance, the wider understanding of dynamics, gives Crumbling an incredible sense of depth. It’s as much about the space around the sound as the sound itself, the awareness of that is what sets it apart. It’s an album you can give yourself to. It’s vivid, warm, and overwhelming if you indulge it, which I hope you do. There is so much value in being led with closed eyes towards worlds we couldn’t dream of experiencing without it.
by Katie Cutforth photography Phillip J Randall Half Waif ’s Lavender is their most ambitious venture yet, a cosmic masterpiece of storytelling, self-reflection and grief. Flooded with ethereal synth and beats, the record creates a soundscape that is both misty and sharp. Although the vocals of Nandi Rose Plunkett are powerful enough to take charge of the sound, this record is about so much more than her. Unexpected and experimental instrumentalism add an almost overwhelming amount of depth, with new characters and ideas constantly being Introduced. Lavender is intensely maternal; Plunkett considers the roles played by women in her family, in search for her own place within it.The opening track ‘Lavender Burning’ introduces her dying grandmother, to whom the album is a homage, and whose powerful presence is felt throughout. Plunkett considers the futility of life, the inevitability of death; the “obvious parting” of her grandmother that she will endure and lonely guilt of missing normality. The weight of Plunkett’s Indian ancestry is felt in her yearning for identity, for a connection with her mother: “fixated on a hole that once held my whole being.” The record captures simultaneously a lifetime and a single moment, reflective and spontaneous all at once. In writing, Plunkett recalls the night she began the poem that became ‘Lavender Burning’, in a state of desperation was to “shelter in the architecture of a song”. What began as a coping mechanism, a way to cling to earth, became a mood immortalised as a song of shimmering beauty.
‘In the Evening’ is the lyrical highlight. “There is something to be learned from the hue of the sky when it loses all its light”, Plunkett professes, seeming to succumb to the enormity of time; “the blur of the boundary compounded by the murmur of the clock.” Central to the record is the idea of place. Half Waif takes us to the ocean, the “undying coast”, “a lilac house under stacks of pink cloud.” Intense images of landscapes conjured by the lyrics are mirrored in the vastness of the production; rich harmonies and countermelodies create a sense of infinity that lingers long after it ends. The record comes to a devastating climax with ‘Salt Candy’ as Plunkett addresses her own mother, desperate to see herself through loving eyes. In vain she declares “I don’t want you to see I’m hurting”, with a determination that cracks as she yearns to be held in her mother’s arms.
Petal Run For Cover Records by Mel Reeve photography Katie Krulock Magic Gone is an album of two halves; the first written before Kiley Lotz (the sole permanent member of Petal) went into treatment for her mental health, the second composed afterwards during recovery. It’s also the first music Lotz has released after publicly coming out as bisexual, and there is a beguiling openness and vulnerability that seeps through the record. Magic Gone is an album about mental health, faith, sexuality, learning who you are, struggling and being in love. It’s more than just an album about pain; it’s exploring the feeling you get when that pain begins to ease, of what lies beyond it. The most powerful, gut-wrenching moments (of which there are many) occur when Lotz lets the pressure and emotion build until it feels almost too much to take - and then she lets go. On ‘I’m Sorry’ she repeats over and over the affirmation “you are, you are, you are...my star, you are”, pushing her voice to full volume, almost to a shout but still holding the melody - and it’s not until everything falls away and the songs ends that we are given the apology of the title. Again, on ‘Comfort’ Lotz sings her lyrics in a smooth, high tone until the chorus where she gives the stark declaration, “I don’t fucking care anymore/I don’t see the point of lying for/What I am only tearing apart”.
The album opens with ‘Better Than You’, a fastpaced and swaggering track with a firm bass line, the lyrics tackling the loneliness of being an artist “and maybe if you were harsh/Maybe if you weren’t you/People would seem to care about/What it is you even do/Maybe if you tried harder/ To seem like you didn’t love it but you do”. Speaking to Interview Magazine, Lotz confronts the duality of being a performer and a human being, with reference to the disappeared magic of the title; “for a while, I thought my magic trick was being able to play this person in public who seemed to be happy and have it all together, and now I see the magic really is surrender and vulnerability and sharing of weakness.”
Title track ‘Magic Gone’ explores the shock of realising the stark reality of adulthood, “pulled off the tablecloth and every dish just stayed in place/the magic gone and that solemn look upon your face/that says,“we’re finally growing up.” The power in surrender and vulnerability is nowhere more evident than on ‘Carve’, a song about Lotz’ own experiences of coming out as bisexual at the age of 25, “and God, will they love me if I am honest?/I would starve until every bone would show/Just to feel a little lighter/And still avoid the truth/You carved your name in me/And I wish I never knew you”. Lotz’ lyrics are at times oblique and at others almost conversational, but always heavy with meaning and no space for filler. Although Lotz plays each instrument on this record (except the drums), it’s her voice that stands out on every track: strong and clear, but full of emotion, often rising to the point of a shout or scream yet always upholding the melody and a tone of transparency. She began writing some of the songs for Magic Gone in 2015, and it is evident that this is a carefully crafted work of many years. The album ends with the sublime ‘Stardust’ which builds from gentle piano to an explosion of cathartic, crashing guitars over the perfectly heart-breaking chorus, a kind of anthem for millennials “now we’re living in shitty apartments/ With mismatched dishes, unlike our parents/Maybe we’d make good parents?/Maybe not”. Everything falls away for the final line of the final chorus, as she sings in almost a whisper “I can’t say/Ooh, I can’t say/Ooh, I can’t say/ I didn’t...love you”. Lotz herself, described this track as the resolution of the record whilst speaking to Noisey, “It’s about coming to terms with the end of a relationship and the things that went wrong, but knowing you wouldn’t change a thing and that you’ll always love and cherish the time you had with that person, and the growth that got you to where you both are now.” Queer representation is important, and Lotz’s bravery in speaking publicly about her sexuality is not only a meaningful thing to do for her audience, but it has also produced an incredible album on living with mental illness, and how that speaks to bisexual experiences specifically. Magic Gone shows the joy and pain, how you can survive mental illness (which disparately affects bisexual people - in a report for the Human Rights Campaign compared to heterosexual adults, bisexual adults reported double the rate of depression). It shows how letting go and understanding who you are, and what you want can change your life. It’s a beautiful, deeply special record to me.
Noisey (May 2018) Interview Magazine (May 2018)
Trickster Blues Cosmic Dreamer Music
Sprawling and collage-like, a hazy stretch of 25 tracks, pieced together to form an hour’s worth of music, Pink Siifu’s latest collection is a fascinating concoction. Akin to dozing in the backseat of a car through some long overnight journey, ensley is an undefined space where nothing is fully informed, where the world drifts in and out of your consciousness, occasional flashes of light and colour and substance piercing through the overriding darkness. The beats are often beautiful, presenting a laid-back backdrop to his equally withdrawn vocal which finds the LA rapper in a meditative, occasionally melancholy state. It’s the little flashes of magic that elevate the record, however: the inspired samples, the weighty spoken interludes, the mesmerising flashes of jazzy, fuzzy instrumentation that lingers far off in the hollow night, a dream within a dream.
I don’t know much about the current ‘desert blues’ scene but RF Shannon leaves little room for further exploration, weaving the kind of magically hypnotic soundscape that you find yourself investing in time and time again, discovering new pieces of scorched land to unearth and traverse. Melding the blues side of his playing, with a rootsy folk-like eye for detail, Trickster Blues is Shane Renfro’s second collection in a year, following on from 2017’s Jaguar Palace, and a mesmerising leap forward. More concise than what’s come before, but still sprawling in the delicacy that underpins it, Trickster Blues feels both mystical and mythical, not one borne of this new, fast-paced technological world, but something more subtle, more suited to the space, the shelter, the quietude of a vast landscape that many of us spend a lifetime pining for.
Momentary Glance Orindal Records Towards the end of 2018, we shared a playlist called ‘the way fog moves’ - a four-hour collection of songs that gently meander and sway, that feel tied to the natural world, songs for the rivers and hills, for the forests and clouds. The inspiration for that playlist was Lisa/Liza’s astonishing new album, Momentary Glance, a record that doesn’t just subtly imbue naturalistic surroundings, but creates its own fog-drenched world to exist within. While a momentary glance at the tracklist shows just six songs, this astonishing record quietly plays for more than forty minutes, with three of the tracks creeping past the eight-minute mark. It’s probably true to say that Momentary Glance is best taken as one whole piece, however, one stirring journey, like finding yourself deep inside a novel, like feeling awake in a dream. Spooky and ethereal, the instrumentation is sparse but essential, providing an ever-slightly-shifting backdrop from which her utterly bewitching voice gradually appears, delivered from the unearthly distance, a noise caught in the trees, the dark of night gradually taking over. The sense of space, - or, perhaps - the way such a thing is manipulated throughout is astounding, and it makes for a truly signature experience; a gripping, engrossing album quite unlike any other.
Trace Mountains A Partner To Lean On Double Double Whammy
If you had to rank the brilliance of Dave Benton’s various projects you’d probably get stuck rather quickly. Which is to say that between playing in the gnarly and magnificent LVL UP, co-founding the ever-wonderful Double Double Whammy label, and crafting skewed-pop gems under his Trace Mountains moniker, Benton is a consistently expansive, engaging, and vital cog in the DIY machine. Latest solo record, A Partner To Lean On, is his strongest collection to-date, an inspired nine-tracks that warp and unwind, where folk tropes are woven within something more crisp and experimental; occasionally boundary-pushing but only when the subdued nature of the voice finds enough strength to do so. Mostly, however, this is just beautiful pop music. The little twists and turns sitting as colourful blemishes on a much bigger picture that is tender and solemn, sad and magical; a passing dream in a passive world, or, as its stand-out track sings: “Drifting into the yawning heat / Waking up to see that everything is exactly in between.”
Lucy Dacus Matador Records by Tom Johnson photography Phillip J Randall My favourite lyric of 2018 can be found within ‘Next Of Kin’ by Lucy Dacus: “I’m at peace with my death, I can go back to bed.” As with all of our favourite things I can’t quite articulate why I like it so much; why it leapt so far out of her world and into mine. I liked it so much I wrote it down, made a note to stick it to my wall. Perhaps it was because 2018, as with the last few years, felt so far from peaceful that that one short line resonated so greatly. Don’t just find peace within yourself, find peace within the fact we’re all dying, and then climb back into bed; that one place of comfort, of passion, of loneliness, of drifting adventures in the night. Of escape. Historian, Dacus’ second full-length, felt immediately like a coming-of-age. Where her previous record, No Burden, was a slowburning, somewhat loose collection, Historian felt immediately important; creasing at all sides under the weight of its interior, but never once bloated, never excessive, just one of those very special moments where a singular vision is realised. Loosely based around death as an everpresent character, but also how that informs our decisions, our relationships, of things that come and go, it’s a record that bristles with energy, good and bad, with always just enough glimmer of light to retain hope. “I believe hope is the most powerful force that humans can interact with,” Lucy Dacus told us when we first interviewed her, slightly ahead of the album’s release at the beginning of the year. “But this album is testing and doubting that hope; waiting to see if hope survives. I think it does in the end.” It feels now as it felt then, as something momentous, not just for Dacus but for us too; as listeners, as consumers, as people who wait for those special songs to come along that we can bind our own lives with. A swirling mass of sentiments and sensations, vehemence and spirit. A belief in ourselves.
Gold Flake Paint
How was your 2018?
Lucy Dacus I feel like it’s been slightly better than 2017. I think people have been a little more hopeful. I think people are willing to put their weight behind what they want to see. There have been a couple of factors, some positive election results. I’ve been getting a lot of hope from Ocasio-Cortez. That’s been really inspiring to watch. Personally it’s been a very unexpected year. Last time we talked was January and boygenius wasn’t even a thought in anyone’s mind, and my own record hadn’t even come out. I think it’s been a disorientating year in a personal level, but luckily I feel like I’ve been able to welcome it because I’m surrounded by people who can keep me grounded. I’ve loved hanging out with the band. While it’s been really disorientating I feel the most capable I ever have. Even during No Burden I never felt capable, I didn’t know how anyone did this thing. But I feel like I’m settling in. GFP
Does that come from people’s reaction to the music? Or is it more of a learned thing? LD Yeah, I think as people we can get used to anything. Good or bad or in between. I mean it’s always really helpful to know that people want me to be doing what I’m doing. It’s a unique job where you’re constantly being reinforced. Not everybody has a job where that happens. I try not to doubt anymore, whether this is what I should be doing. GFP
How do you feel about the record itself now compared to when we first spoke about it? LD I haven’t listened to it in a while. I might revisit it. I should maybe revisit it. I think I’m happy with it. I still like all of the songs. My goal, overall, for ever, is to never put out a song I won’t want to play in the future. So everything I’ve said up until this point, I still stand behind. It’s cool playing shows and seeing which lines
mean something to different people. At the end of Nightshift there’s that line: “In five years these songs will feel like covers, dedicated to old lovers…” …and I think that’s already started to happen. When I sing that song now I’m not thinking about where it came from, I’m looking at people who it matters to. I’m always just shaken by the part that it’s played for other people. GFP
Have there been other moments like that, that have jumped out at you? LD I guess I’m always surprised when people sing along to my work. The one that does surprise me a lot is Body To Flame. I always thought that song was the sleeper. I like it but it’s not as defined, or as catchy, as the rest so whenever I see people sing that song I’m like ‘You definitely listened to the whole record!’ GFP
Something you said in our first inter view was that you saw Historian as being an album about testing and doubting hope, and waiting to see if hope survives. Do you feel more or less hopeful about the world now? LD I think more. Definitely more. There’s been so much going wrong, but history just shows that we’re moving towards a more compassionate world. It doesn’t feel like that in the moment, it feels like it’s never been more hateful. But I think anybody alive at any point felt like their moment was the most hateful - just because it’s such an intense emotion. It’s hard to conceptualise your pain as lesser than someone else’s. But I think that the fact that we’re in the middle of this presidency, and people are still fighting, people aren’t beaten down. There are a lot of things that people thought were going to stop at some point, that people were going to get burned-out, and not accomplish anything, but luckily I think the opposite is happening. I’m hopeful, is the short answer. Does travelling the world help you evaluate that hope? Not that America is the only place that has trouble. LD I think that it helps - and it hurts. But it helps to interact with a different context, and talk to people who are just aware of their own country’s shortcomings, and realising that this is happening everywhere. Also to know that this thing that is happening to us is at the forefront of other people’s minds. The weird thing about travelling is that I feel so much like a product of imperialism. The fact that everyone speaks English, and that American companies
and businesses are leaching on everyone, wherever you go. That’s a weird thing; to see it extrapolate into the world, this weird capitalist domination. But I just try to focus on the people I meet. I have a bunch of friends in Bristol, for instance, that makes Bristol feel like a second home. Like I could just straight-up move there. I think it always comes down to the people you’re around, and how they care for you, and vice-versa. GFP
Something else you said was that you’d be happy if your album could provide some kind of solace for other people. Has that been a clear and present reaction? Does that still feel like a useful, or validating, thing? LD Yeah, it does. I actually just talked to this guy who told me that when he heard Nightshift he’d just got out of this relationship where he had a 9-5 and she worked the night shift and that was part of why it all fell apart, and he had to pull over and cry in a parking lot. Hearing stories like that, realising I’ve been a part of a setting that I wasn’t aware of… I’ve done that myself so many times with certain songs. Last night I saw Yo La Tengo, one of my favourite bands of all time, and I got to meet them. I was about two inches away from spilling my guts to them, about all the times they’ve been with me and changed me. I’ve fallen in love to that music, mourned to that music, walked many miles with it. I didn’t end up saying any of that, but it’s just nice to remember that it’s just all a cycle, and that I like being on both sides of it. It feels like paying it forwards. I don’t think I’d do this if that wasn’t what was happening.
Finally, boygenius came out of nowhere and seemingly changed your year completely. What kind of an effect has that had on you? LD It’s been a literal dream. In the way that you wake up from a dream and ask yourself if it actually happened. None of us can really remember playing The Ryman, our first show together, at maybe the most special and historic venue in the country. We all just greyed out that day. So it’s all been weird, but it’s been super rewarding and special. It was nice to make something without any expectations with people who I just implicitly trust. It’s not set on any sort of path. I have a concept for my next record, for instance, and projects in between, and maybe even the record after that. I’m always thinking that far forward and laying a path that I’ll eventually walk on. But with boygenius, every moment we’re figuring out what it is - and we’re constantly surprised. It just feels really free to do stuff with them. I think it’s also helped my psyche just to know that they’re around, that that’s an option, and also that my music isn’t the only thing that I do; like being just Lucy Dacus, which is my name, but also my job title, and my band name. That’s not all I’m capable of. I feel like more things are possible. GFP LD out?
What does 2019 hold for you? Well….when is this issue coming
GFP End of January... LD Hmm, then I can’t really tell you what I have coming up. But I’m not really taking a break; let’s just say that. It’s not the next record, but I have a couple of things…
Adrianne Lenker Saddle Creek by Maria Sledmere photography Tom Johnson When I was younger, I used to walk all the wrong paths. I wanted to avoid getting the bus, so I’d cut across farmer’s fields, wade through bracken and ferns; I’d stride alongside the A road that backed out of the town I grew up in. More than once, I’d have to climb over dead deer and other roadkill. But I’d also pass extraordinary treasures: blackberries fatter than my thumb, gorse that glowed in late summer sun and smelled impossibly of coconut. Listening to Adrianne Lenker’s abysskiss, I’m taken back to those winding, fragile paths, with all remembered beauty and strangeness. With simple arrangements of finger-picked guitar and voice, recorded in just a week, the songs are meandering paths themselves, winding over memory and dreams, rich with surprises. In opening song, ‘terminal paradise’, Lenker sings: ‘see my death become a trail / and the trail leads to a flower’. In soft low caps, airy and clear production, these songs are wanderings; they feel wrought from a turn in the year, the coming autumn, the assonant title catching me quick and sweet as a fruit or a thorn. Your angora sweater snagged on the gorse, a word caught sharp in my heart. Nature is not a romanticised backdrop in abysskiss, as it is in so many pastoral renderings from
indieland. Whenever Lenker sings of the earth or the water, the waves, it feels as though these forms were breaking out of her, were inside her body as much as within her vision. There’s an acknowledgement of this deep intimacy with otherness that stretches the hours, that makes memory reel as landscapes rush in and out of impression, like phosphenes smudged in your eyes: ‘Counting time as time counts me, the river to the island’. This is a record about time, reflections, circles and cycles; the real, the absolute, the imaginary. Lenker delivers harsh imagery with a warmth that carries, that softens the abyssal feeling that sinks in around October, offers a sort of incubation. I think of Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space, writing about nests: ‘‘The nest is a swelling fruit, pressing against its limits’. ‘My heart is a wagon’, Lenker sings on ‘out of your mind’, a rare rumble of electric guitar stirring beneath celestial, Beach House arpeggios. This is a record that runs and trickles, dark and blissful, sparkling with secrets, glacial pains that stretch the years. It wants to show you things, slow you down. It’s not healing exactly, but it’s a moment of quietude that opens the pathways again, breath to breath, so you might go on and walk.
Anna Burch Heavenly Recordings/Polyvinyl Record Co. by Katie Cutforth photography Tom Johnson Quit The Curse is the stunningly assertive and undeniably cool debut from Anna Burch, whose move to song-writing follows years of performing with other bands. It is a self-help record, unrelentingly positive with the unmistakable nonchalance of someone sick and tired of the drama of romance. Emulating the nostalgia of Angel Olsen with the sickly enthusiasm and clarity of Alvvays, Burch’s vocals are upfront and mature and her lyrics are refreshingly frank. The opening track ‘2 Cool 2 Care’ conveys both optimism and disappointment, wishing simultaneously for simplicity and excitement: “You scare with your indifference/ I like you best when you’re a mess.” The lush, sixties style pop brings colour and playfulness to even the most sincere or mundane subject matter. Moments of simplicity in the vocal melodies are compensated by rich instrumentation and intricate guitar melodies; the record is saved from being twee by its overwhelming sense of irony. Sweet and polished vocal harmonies provide satisfaction and closure where it is lacking from the romances played out in the lyrics. The title track details Burch’s relief in escaping an unhealthy cycle, alongside the bitter knowledge that someone might always hold power over her: “Kissing you again would probably break me.” While deeply personal, the record’s blunt approach conveys a hardness in Burch, a fear of vulnerability matched in the lyrics: “I forgot to fake the way that I was feeling.” Down-to-earth and punchy, Quit The Curse is a promising introduction to an artist who is not afraid to be herself.
Holy Now Lazy Octopus Records by Trevor Elkin photography Hilda Randulv
It’s so easy to fall for Gothenburg’s Holy Now, and on Think I Need The Light, released in April, they provided the soundtrack to every love affair you’ve ever had, or will; hooked from those first curious declarations on ‘Toronto’ that “love is a waste, a place to bury time”. For a band that unquestionably follows the same, longstanding indie-pop traditions of bands like The Sundays, Alvvays or Veronica Falls, there is a refreshing airiness in their songs that genuinely lifts the spirit, even when sadness is their central theme. No twee jangling, no morose introspection, just wholehearted human expression. These sentiments are neatly contained in perfect pop songs like ‘Feel It All’, that recognise the paradoxical role of both shade and light in our relationships. Contender for the best song of the year, ‘Pearl’ goes one step further, reaching in to someone lost in their darkness, in an act of unconditional love and hope. Believably pure and true, Julia Olander’s voice comes into its own in this context as she cries “will you keep me from the dark? I think I need the light”. The self-defeating desire to hold someone’s heart in your hands, to possess it and protect it, is felt strongly in all its tragedy and beauty. By contrast, the steady motorik machinery of ‘Something Real’ creates a heart-clenching, paranoid tension that builds to its climax: “I need to feel alive, I need it all to shine”, reflecting a generation who feel meaning and purpose has been lost somewhere in the noise of our modern lives. Finally, steeped in anticipation, ‘Say It Again’ brims with all the sadness of unrequited affection, the ideal close to an incredible debut album that is brief, but oh so touching.
Damien Jurado Secretly Canadian by Clare Archibald photography Lindsey Barne art edit Marcus Whitmore I prefer the word evoke to evocative. Damien Jurado’s craft, in particular his latter work of current album The Horizon Just Laughed, and the Maraqopa trilogy preceding it, evokes with intent not passive whimsy. His words are framed between repeating blasts of sea, sky, deserts, and galaxies of infinity yet they never descend to tropes of yearn or soothe because at the core there is an energy of motion, of excavation and evocation. The Horizon Just Laughed is an album of taking leave of places and people, of ideas of self, of the possible. His first self-produced album, released not long before the death of close friend (Richard Swift, collaborator and producer of the Maraqopa albums) feels both tragically prophetic and an act of affirmation of the need to keep on finding different chords of voice and expression, of creative being in a world of flux and loss. Anyone who questions the wisdom of taking dreams seriously or watching too much television should listen and hear/see what beauty Jurado crafts from rambles in sleep and watched movements of detail in awake. Likewise, anyone who disagreed with his decision to not allow advance streaming of the album so that it would be heard in full, as immersion, should listen and allow the many waves of water from the stinging rain of capitalism to the magnetic lap of unknown, of falter, to fall over them, and wonder at how characters from his childhood tv shows and fragments of memory and mood can carry them to places of real. “I collected every wave from the shore I forgot I was human as I laid up my emotions And I knocked them like dishes to the floor”
Gold Flake Paint
Damien Jurado All at once. It’s all very in the moment. The melody and lyrics come at the same time, always. It’s almost like entertaining two different house guests at one time. So I have to pay close attention to what I’m doing lyrically and melodically but the two get along great. When I do work out lyrics, I don’t spend a lot of time on them, they just sort of happen - they just show up and I write it down on a piece of paper then I type it out on the computer. I don’t self-edit myself, ever. I just leave it as it is. I don’t ever go back and change anything. GFP
I wanted to ask about writing as well, as there’s always all these writing tips for writers like read and read some more to write and I love the quality of your writing, because I’ve read about you being dyslexic and not a big reader, and love how that refutes the narrowness of that way of thinking. DJ I don’t read at all; the thing is I don’t even like reading! GFP
An inner stillness exists that gives a clarity of affect and emotion not irrespective of but because of the oblique nature of his lyrics, his finger plucking working as punctuation of the seamlessly divergent borders of his mind and musical styles. His lyrical honesty about the multi-faceted nature of veracity gives the listener freedom to submerge themselves in what is a truly artistic flow of experience.
You’ve talked quite a bit about how you record in one take and how, when you write lyrics, it’s a form of free writing and the songs have a spirit of their own. Do you write it in bits and pieces too or does it all come in the same way that you record?
Your writing, your actual word writing beautifully demonstrates that we read the real and imagined in completely different ways, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes not. Did you read about the Incan artefact they found that they think was knot language based on sight and touch with code combination and with no words at all? I think your music has that quality of melding... and I wondered would you ever
consider writing without music? Is it something you’ve ever been approached to do or that you’re interested in? DJ It’s funny. I write stuff to my wife all the time, like emails and messages, and she’s always like ‘Oh that’s so poetic’ and I’m like ‘Really?!’ She’s always encouraging me and saying, ‘Maybe you should think about writing prose, or poetry,’’ or whatever. But I don’t know. I’d feel like, for me, without music it doesn’t make much sense. GFP
It might make sense to other people though because I think you have this real synergy of the senses that works really well in writing. It would be interesting to see it in that way. DJ We’ll see. It’s hard to tell. I also feel like other people have done it - like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen - and why add to what they’ve already done when they’re great? I tried it when I was younger, I haven’t done anything in recent years. It’s just so different, I don’t see I’d get anything out of it. GFP DJ
Do you impose any discipline on your writing or just go with the flow and wait for it to happen? Unless the alarm goes off, like
for a fireman, I’m not going to go looking for fires. Same thing with me and writing, I just kind of wait around. It’s funny because down the street from where I live there’s a fire station which is pretty busy, but some days I’ll walk past and the firefighters will be hanging outside the firehouse, patting the dog, or playing catch and that’s kind of how I feel sometimes, just waiting for the alarm to go off, then I’ll go to work. GFP
I think you wonderfully articulate the crossover of time, and how you can look at something and be aware of the past and future. Is that a really central thing for you? And do you think it’s about balancing the contradictions within yourself? DJ It’s so funny you’ve asked this question because, even today, when I dropped my wife off this morning at the airport, I was expressing about technology. It’s funny because the central character of this story is always jumping around in time, between the future and the past, and it’s very much how I feel constantly. My wife and I, we use technology, but we don’t get it half the time, our hands are forced to the wheel. I actually hate it. Only this morning I was pointing out to her I don’t know why I have this fucking iPhone. No-one texts me, they email on my
computer. I don’t ever use my phone ever. I live in Beverly Hills right in the centre of LA and I can see the Hollywood sign from my kitchen window and this is where we’re living, but I feel like an alien. We’re here because the weather is beautiful, but we probably won’t stay here very long. It just feels very alien. GFP
So it starts to feel like you’re living on a parallel level by what, going to the beach or hiking or whatever, is that what you would do there? DJ Yeah, it’s a weird place and a weird time. I don’t think it’s just us. There are a lot of people who just can’t keep up anymore. I feel that way all the time. GFP
It’s obviously been said that your music is cinematic, and I do agree with that, but for me there’s a proper physicality to it where the film playing in the mind also inhabits the body. The (Richard Swift) production on The Maraqopa Trilogy really makes me want to dance and move but also your own production on The Horizon Just Laughed, even on the more melancholic tracks, has an inner shimmy of movement. I know
that you’ve said you want the listener to be affected but how does it affect you, especially when you play it live? DJ It’s kind of complex because, for me, the albums and the live shows are a completely different story. It’s hard. I’ve done the band thing and taken the band on tour and tried to replicate the studio vibe and it just doesn’t work. Every album is a movie for me and if you saw Casablanca, for instance, and then Casablanca goes on tour and it’s just Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall clearly acting their parts over and over, that’s not a play, that’s a movie, and that’s kind of how I feel about an album. An album for me is supposed to be stationary not in transit. I would feel better going on tour talking about the album versus playing songs from the album. GFP
That’s interesting, have you ever tried it out and done a bit of both? DJ No, I haven’t tried it yet. I don’t know if people would care. It’s such a weird thing. I also have a real disconnect from my music, and from music in general in terms, of how people hear it and view it. Movies are the same way for me too. I don’t quite understand. I’d like to treat each album like a book tour, maybe play a minute or two of the record or a bit of each song and then talk about the song for a longer period of time. GFP
I think that would be interesting, I’d come see you do that.
DJ I think that’d be much more interesting than seeing someone try to replicate an album live Here’s the thing, you go see a band like Coldplay live, they’re basically playing the album and it sounds exactly like the album. I don’t get it, I can stay home and listen to the album. I just want to do a book type tour: play a bit, talk about it, take some questions. GFP
I really like your thinking on your 50-state tour, and playing the peripheries. Also I really like the word peripheral and think it applies really nicely to stuff you do in terms of your vision. Do you find or feel a difference with these gigs in how they are and feel, and the response from people? DJ I definitely prefer the 50-state tour and I’m actually doing more of it in 2019. I really loathe the music industry with a passion. There was a time when the independent music industry was an alternative to the mainstream, but it’s all the same now. All the fucking same. Venues are into selling alcohol, that’s what it is, and you are there to provide, to bring people in to buy alcohol and so you can sell a few records. It has nothing to do with art or music at all, it has to do with commerce and alcohol and I’m not into that shit, man. I want to be able to meet people on a personal level and talk to them on a personal level because that is what music is about. It’s about connection. When I did the 50-state tour thing that was a huge
part of it; I get to hang out with these cool people who aren’t industry types. It just gives them a chance to see you in a different light. GFP
Maybe more people need to do it to make it the norm, as it definitely makes a difference in local communities? DJ What’s also happening is that they’re demanding 10, 15, 20% of a band’s merchandise. Even though they invited you to play, you are using their space to sell your goods, so I’m like ‘I’ll give you 15% of my merch sales if you give me 15% of your bar’. I don’t want to participate in that any more, I’d rather play someone’s house. GFP
You’re in LA now and you said at the start of 2018 that this album was a taking of goodbyes in many ways. Is your sense of place dislocated with everything you’ve had to confront this year, or has it shifted you to a new place? Do you feel like you’re in the right place now? DJ I definitely feel like I’m in the right place. I lived in Washington State for thirtysix years of my life and it was time for me to go, way beyond time. Washington is great, it’s a beautiful place to live in, but it’s just not my home anymore. Honestly, I don’t recognise it anymore. It’s changed so much, economically wise. There used to be a time you could buy a house in Seattle or Washington State, then Amazon came in. It’s pretty fucked up.
by Trevor Elkin photography Alexa Viscius
by Katie Cutforth photography Marika Kochiashvila
Lala Lala’s 2016 album Sleepyhead was a raw, messy affair. With lines like “I drink more than I want to/ because it makes you easier to talk to/ and what you’re saying is boring,” it sank its lyrical teeth into the selfserving culture, obsessed with either itself, getting high or wasted. On second album The Lamb, her debut for Hardly Art, songwriter Lillie West has had to tread a different path entirely. Last year, shortly after going sober, West experienced several life-changing events including a home invasion and death of loved ones. The intensity of dealing with these events shifted her perspective, filling it with dread as she began fearing the worst for herself, her friends and the whole world. Unravelling The Lamb’s guitar-centred post-punk layers reveals a surprising use of drum machine, pop synth and even smoky saxophones. Even in its most buoyant moments, breezy riffs and nostalgic refrains mask a deeper unease, embedded in the symbolism behind the album’s title. The lamb is Spring’s new life, full of innocence, but is also associated with vulnerability and ritual slaughter. The existential weight of this metaphor is felt in every song. From the collapsing cadences on ‘Destroyer’ “You are the reason my heart broke behind my back”, to the eery, dulled detachment of ‘Scary Movie’, and rich harmonies of ‘Moth’, West’s voice adapts to the complex tensions inherent in each song’s subject, holding everything firmly in place. Introspective, humbling and candid, in The Lamb we hear how far West has travelled in her art and as a person. Perhaps the boldest decision anyone can make is to actually open their eyes to what’s going on around them, to live a purposeful and sober life in the knowledge that there is no easy or painless route through it all. In that context, the dark, paranoid psychological labyrinth Lala Lala creates is inevitable, but West helps us understand the need to find our own way out.
Elena Tonra’s impossibly melancholic voice is synonymous with Daughter’s sound, yet her first solo venture exposes a new level of rawness and intimacy. In late 2018 Tonra re-emerged alone under the pseudonym Ex:Re, taken to mean ‘x-ray’ as well as ‘regarding an ex’. The familiar ambient rock of Daughter is stripped back and rebuilt with driving, muted beats, synth and strings, while Tonra’s vocals are unmistakably strong as they dance between confident, numb, and on the edge of tears. The record is almost uncomfortably intimate, like watching a person through a window live their darkest and most private moments. Tonra’s lyrics are tragically introspective, at times abstract, at times stark, laced with remorse and self-sabotage. It is a break-up record, yet Tonra’s words reveal more resentment towards herself than towards an ex. The lead single ‘Romance’ conveys the feeling of being as uncomfortable in one’s own mind as in the world, as Tonra recalls an attempt to move on that leaves her feeling like “a slaughterhouse”. The regret is almost palpable as the track builds to a reverberating haze and the painful realisation that she is looking for something in a stranger that may not exist: “I wanna know who you are.”
Though somewhat insular in its themes and mood, the record moves impressively between musical styles. ‘The Dazzler’ is stunning and unexpected, a move towards the steady drum beats and sliding electronic sounds of trip-hop – proof that the record is as experimental as it is familiar. There is more colour in ‘Crushing’ and ‘I Can’t Keep You’, but the hint of a major key in the strumming guitar comes across more as anxiety than optimism. ‘New York’ feels like a panic attack, detailing a bleak trip to the city that “wasn’t work…wasn’t holiday, it was just time and space”. Unrelenting syncopated drums and moody guitar create an almost agonisingly mundane view of the contemporary condition, as sliding, sallow strings suggest slowly realised horror. A defeated Tonra sighs “Forgive me, I can’t keep it in.” It remains unclear whether or not the birth of Ex:Re entails the death of Daughter; but what is clear is that Ex:Re could only belong to Elena Tonra, in all its beauty and devastation.
Advance Base Run For Cover Records by Tom Johnson photography Tom Cops I made the big move from the town I’d grown up into the big city I didn’t know, filled with all the people I didn’t know, back in 2010. In those first unsteady days, wide-eyed and wondering, my main companion was Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, the now-defunct musical project of Owen Ashworth. Though I shouted as loudly as I could that this move was the most positive step I’d ever taken, the truth was, hindsight aside, somewhat different. I’d moved as a last resort, because I had to, rather than because I really wanted to. Sink or swim. Now or never. Somewhat lost and alone, looking to find a better life for myself in the immediacy of a new place, I got deeply attached to Casiotone’s ‘Etiquette’ album. Something about the sadness. Something about the isolation. Something about the strength of the characters, the way each song feels like a world of its own, a story of its own that you can climb inside and inhabit. Almost a decade later it resonates in exactly the same way; a part of my life as much as that city, as much as the move itself and all that followed. I interviewed Owen Ashworth not long after this time, as he travelled the world to play the final shows before retiring the Casiotone project. In the time since, he’s continued making music, changing his name to Advance Base and exploring new avenues and pastures, toying with textures that he hadn’t broached in previous years.
Then came this year’s Animal Companionship LP, and a return to the sad laments of his past work; less experimentation, more plain-stated and raw. Released ahead of the album, ‘Dolores and Kimberly’ is an immediate highlight, and indicative of this subtle re-shift, a return to the synth-and-keys sound of those Casiotone recordings. As a stand-alone moments it’s one of 2018’s most endearing musical moments, a magical song that seems to cloud the world around you, bringing time to a standstill as a new world blooms in your imagination; the intimate story dragging you in for a whole lifetime then delivering you back out into the world where just a few moments have passed; a Narnia of sad beats and sentiments. “The streets were so empty, you’d think it was the rapture; our midnight world, just me & you.” Though an immediate stand-out, the rest of Animal Companionship is equally arresting, ten songs loosely based around humans and their pets but, more broadly, a crushing, beautiful, sorrowful picture of human life, for all that it means; when it means everything, when it means nothing much at all.
Gold Flake Paint T h e re a c t i o n to A n i m a l Companionship seems to be that it’s the closest you’ve come to replicating your Casiotone work - would you agree with that? And, if so, what was behind that? Owen Ashworth I think that’s true. I tried to do some different things with the previous Advance Base releases, flirting with different genres. The first album, A ShutIn’s Prayer took a lot of inspiration from folk/Americana. The second album, Nephew in the Wild was very classic rock-obsessed. I’d recorded all of that stuff at home in Illinois, using a lot of the same equipment, so it all had its own sound. My autoharp showed up on a lot
of recordings, which gave everything a pretty different feel than the Casiotone stuff, which was much more focused on keyboards. About halfway through writing Animal Companionship, I decided that I would record the album in Los Angeles at my friend Jason Quever’s studio. I had to start considering which instruments I’d be able to take on the plane, & what Jason had access to. Electric piano is the main instrument that I write on, so I knew that would be the foundation, but I wanted to experiment with different arrangement styles & try to set a different mood. Jason has some nice keyboards in his studio, so I decided to leave my autoharp at home & focus on synthesizer atmospheres. There’s a special kind of feeling that comes with building a synthesizer voice, coming up with a few droning chords, & just getting lost in the feeling of the sound. It absolutely reminded me of my first experiences with synths, back then I was making those early Casiotone records, so there was some nostalgia there. I even used a Casio drum preset on “Walt’s Fantasy.” I don’t think I’d used one of those since Twinkle Echo. The last song on the album, “A n s w e r i n g M a c h i n e , ” w a s v e r y intentionally referential of CFTPA as well. It occurred to me that I hadn’t written a really short song in a while, & that was something I really enjoyed doing in CFTPA times, so, in that instance, I made a very conscious effort to write a song the way I used to. GFP
There’s such an innate sense of plain sadness in your writing - does the spark for your work come from such a place? OA I’ve come to accept that I have a melancholic temperament. It’s my nature. When I was a kid & just getting into music, I was always attracted to the sad stuff. It was all I wanted to hear. When I got older & started to write my own songs, I was only interested in writing sad ones. Everything I write is in orbit of the same melancholic feeling. I don’t fight it.
Texturally there’s a lovely use of space and balance in your work - at what point does that come into your songwriting process. Are your songs slowly layered or do they tend to appear more fully formed? OA Every song comes together a little differently, but a song has never come to me fully formed. There’s usually some little idea that ends up in one of my samplers or in my phone’s voice memos, maybe some little drum loop or a melody, that I’ll just keep around for a while & occasionally revisit until I find another idea to twist around it. It’s always a slow winding of a few disparate, abstract elements that will eventually build into something. Sometimes it takes me a few years to finish a song. Lately, I’ve had the feeling that at least some little element of each of my songs was just always there. The atmosphere is an important of it, especially on Animal Companionship. All of the mood & texture is meant to draw attention to the words, in a hypnotic sort of way. For example, all of the action in the song “Your Dog” is meant to take place over just a few seconds, from the moment that the speaker recognizes the dog, to the moment that the dog recognizes the speaker. I wanted the loops & drones to give the feeling that everything is moving in slow motion, like you’re floating in that moment. GFP
I was so fascinated by ‘Dolores & Kimberly’ from the moment I first heard it. Why do you think it is that music allows us to attach ourselves to characters so quickly in such a short space time of time (in this case 5 minutes and 5 seconds) OA That song in particular is pretty mysterious. It requires some imagining to put all of the pieces together. Leaving room for the listener’s imagination makes the experience of listening more personal, & more memorable, because you have to put so much of yourself into the song, just to make sense of it. By the time you finish listening, the story is half yours.
You’ve always been able to detail characters in a very unique way - have you ever written prose/ fiction and is it something you ever yourself exploring more? OA I’ve been writing songs for about twenty years now. The songs have always been stories with characters. I never questioned it, it was just the way the words came out. I’m no great composer, but for me, the sound element is such an important part of experience of getting to know the people in the stories. The mood of the music is such a handy shortcut to a character’s emotional state. All of those sounds go a long way towards immersing the listerner in the feeling of the story. It’s an easy trick, but I still love it. I keep telling myself that I should try to do more writing for paper, just to try something different, but the truth is that I find songwriting to be pretty satisfying & compelling. I’m always trying to improve the formula. GFP
When did your relationship with (literal) animal companionship begin? Did you grow up with pets? OA I got a golden retriever puppy for my birthday when I was 7 or 8. Her name was Lucy. We only had her for a year before she went to live with another family. It’s a long story. After that, we had cats. I’ve pretty much always had cats around since then. GFP
What is it about animal companionship that made you write a record about it? OA I love listening to people talk about their pets. People’s relationships with the animals in their lives can say a lot about their human relationships, & it’s ultimately the human relationships that interest me the most. After I had kids, my relationship with my cat changed, & I realized that I’d been treating my cat like she was my child. I started paying more attention to my friends’ relationships with their pets, particularly friends who don’t have kids. More & more, animals were showing up in my songs. Once I became aware that it was becoming a theme, I just leaned into it, & made a conscious efford to try to examine human/animal relationships a little closer. For a while, I had this idea that I’d write an entire album about one dog in particular, & all of the relationships that dog had with various owners & the other people in their lives, but over time, I lost interest in a single, overarching narrative, or at least I lost interest in making the one-dog throughline so literal. I still like imagining that all of the dogs on the album are named Walter, but I was happy to leave the connections between the stories somewhat vague & dreamlike, & let the listeners make their own connections between the stories.
Matador Records by Katie Cutforth photography Michael Lavine Snail Mail, the solo project of Baltimore’s Lindsey Jordan, gained attention with 2016’s Habit, a buzzing six-song EP steeped in teenage angst. Though the drama continues onto the latest album, Lush, nineteenyear-old Jordan has undoubtedly grown in both maturity and self-assuredness. Her endearingly brash vocals are stronger and more able to push through the noise, emerging brightly to be complemented by tight drums and shredding riffs. Lush is written almost entirely in the first person, yet at no point does it feel shallow or self-indulgent. On the contrary, the lyrics not only encapsulate Jordan’s adolescent agonies, they create an exuberant soundscape within which anyone can place themselves; however juvenile and temporary, these emotions are real and ones that most people experience. Lush is a brave celebration of being young, falling in and out of love, and feeling everything, hard. Clearly aware yet unashamed of her own melodrama, Jordan stubbornly declares “I know myself and I’ll never love anyone else”. Rare moments of quiet dot the record with honesty and gentleness. But any time the mood becomes too dispirited, Jordan kicks back with enigmatic force, as though embarrassed at having become overly vulnerable. The anxious ‘Let’s Find An Out’ serves as an interlude with the band stripped down to basics, and even Jordan sounds confused about where to go next as she laments “Someone should pay for it, well I don’t know who”. ‘Deep Sea’ lives up to the album’s title; swathed in luscious “greens and blues” it conveys an enveloping melancholia, broken only by the loneliest voice of a trombone. The closing track ‘Anytime’ brings the record full circle with the completion of the demo- like ‘Intro’: the calm following the turmoil of the record. It is a lullaby accompanied mainly by gently strummed chords, the vocals softened, almost tender. As vulnerable as an unsent love letter, Jordan’s age finally shows as she plainly and innocently demands, “Do you love me?”
MSMSMSM/Future Classic/ Transgressive Records by Paul Bridgewater SOPHIE’s debut album isn’t for everyone - but for me, it’s a daily blast of CBT. When the voices outside start to get too loud and there’s a desperate need to raze every waking thought in my brain down to rubble and start again, it’s the noise I want rushing through me. A manifesto of self-determinism - dance music with message and an unapologetic desire to make you feel something - it remains for me the most affecting and interesting record I’ve heard this year. If you’ve been with Sophie from the start there is both a catharsis and conclusion to Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. It’s a record that sucks in all her work to date and spits out an empowering vision of a world beyond gender, labels and questions. Sophie’s two proxies - her production and her vocalists. Vocalist Caila Throper Thomas (formerly Mozart’s sister, now trading as Cecile Believe) earns her place a collaborator and co-architect of the album. By featuring a relatively unknown voice, instead of a more familiar one (hiya Charli), Sophie avoids diluting the core intent of the album. Ultimately the record is an exercise in the beauty of sonics; when they’re ripped and brutal it almost hurts; when they’re saccharine and heart-on-sleeve, the effect can be nauseating. The playfulness of her early work is largely absent and when it does rear, the result feels like a deliberate callback to the innocence of adolescence, a pre-lapsarian world of equality, of kindness, and of limitless potential.
Hour Sleeper Records by Andrew Hannah photography Bob Sweeney Tiny Houses feels like the aftermath of an event. The off-kilter violin and plucked electric guitar notes of opening track ‘Beautiful, OH’ make their way gently around the edges of something. Not quite wreckage but certainly the ending of something....yet also the blooming of something new. I’ve always wondered what would come next after Slint’s Spiderland. After that final roar on ‘Good Morning, Captain’ of “I miss youuuuuu”. It could only be a period of reflection, and that’s what Tiny Houses is. Quiet introspection and study, set to the most gentle of instrumental passages. Mike Cormier, solo singer Abi Reimold, Evangeline Krajewski, Matt Fox, Pete Gill (Friendship), and Jason Calhoun (Naps) are Philadelphia’s Hour, and Tiny Houses is an album about space and spaces, how we interact with the people we share those spaces with...and how to cope in the residual. The nod to Slint (even though Cormier and coshare more in common with The Sonora Pine and Rachel’s) is fitting, as Hour makes post-rock which sounds like it’s been hermetically sealed in Louisville, Kentucky in 1992 and re-opened in 2018, releasing its dusty, dappled riches ever so slowly. Tiny Houses feels insular, yet with the addition of field recordings and birdsong we’re taken into the wider spaces of North America as an escape from the claustrophobia of the titular box. It’s fitting that this is an instrumental album; there’s a rare quality to be found in human relationships where one person knows
how to be around another naturally, without talking it over, just being able to exist in a space together. An unspoken understanding of the physical, of how bodies work together in unison. Tiny Houses exists in those spaces, and there is as much said in the grace notes of this record as there is in one of the languorous guitar notes and electronic delays on the lazily unwinding ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’, or the unreleased tension play of guitar and strings on ‘315’. Tension (and occasionally the gentlest of release) plays a big part on Tiny Houses; ‘This Is What I Wanted’ nervously ticks over, in anticipation of the new which never quite arrives, the shivering ‘Town Meeting’ (complete with audio chatter) sets the listener on edge yet in the next beat the birdsong and nylon string guitar of ‘Tiny House’ - which recalls Will Oldham’s own instrumental meanderings - acts as a soothing balm. ‘Doxology’ is another salve, its nods to canonical Christianity suggesting a rare sacramental moment in this secular poetry. Later in 2018 Hour would release a second record, Anemone Red, which Cormier says detailed the point in which a relationship started on the slide. Yet here on Tiny Houses, in the aftermath, in the new morning light, there are the beautiful, fragile beginnings of something special, something to be cherished. Let the next day take care of itself, for now hide away in the tiny houses of your relationship, form an unspoken bond, a kinship that can take on the wide open spaces of the world.
Noname Self-released by Lior Phillips photography Chantal Anderson More than the waves of sparkling strings and astral jazz, the clear difference in Room 25 is Noname’s overt sexuality. “Fucked your rapper homie, now his ass is making better music/ My pussy teachin’ ninth-grade English/ My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism,” she smiles on the second verse of album opener ‘Self ’. Noname recorded Room 25, her official debut after stellar mixtape Telefone, after moving to Los Angeles from her native Chicago—and, as has been much-discussed, after she lost her virginity at 25 years old. After close inspection, the actual sex wouldn’t appear to be the only factor in the sexuality. The move away from her hometown and to a brighter, shinier place empowers just as much. After reaching a saturation point in recent years, the Chicago rap and hip-hop scene has recently found itself reckoning with a disturbing undercurrent of sexual assault and rape allegations. The spectre of R Kelly has loomed large for years, but a new wave of implicated artists show that the issue isn’t relegated to one individual or era. “In the past 2 days, I’ve heard too many stories of domestic abuse, sexual violence and rape perpetrated by ppl I called friends,” Chance the
Rapper recently tweeted. “I am ashamed of yall. These stories will be amplified and your victims will receive the justice they deserve.” Chance’s collective Savemoney has seen associates Towkio and Stix accused of alleged sexual assault, and Joey Purp was accused of physically assaulting the mother of his child. Even the artist behind the original Room 25 cover, Bryant Giles, was accused of sexual assault and arrested for domestic battery. Outside of Kelly, none of this was exactly front page news, but the rumours and anecdotes swirled. (Editors Note: The artwork for Room25 has been revoked by Noname and the artist is currently working to replace this.) Which is all to say, the heart of the Chicago hip-hop scene likely wasn’t a place for a woman to feel sexually empowered. Platforms and accountability—whether via peers or more grand efforts, such as dream hampton’s Surviving R Kelly—can go a long way towards changing that tone. But so can claiming your own place, your own world. Los Angeles has long been a symbol of rebirth, a locus of opportunity and new identity. Southern California isn’t without its #MeToo horror stories— tragically, no place is—but LA could be a new world for a young woman who had spent her early life in the frozen confines of the Windy City. In a recent interview with FADER, Noname attributed her pre-25 virginity to an insecurity, an inability to be naked in front of someone. On one hand, that’s hard to believe from someone whose earliest work held bold intimacy, like crawling into the folds of her brain. But confidence seems to have bred confidence: performing for massive audiences, she says, gave her confidence enough to express her sexuality, which in turn has added a new shade of brilliance to the music. “I say ‘pussy’ like a thousand times on the album. I just was like, OK, now that my pussy is like this character that’s in the book, how do I colour [that story in]?” she told FADER. The choice in words used here are important; Noname had proven herself to be a phenomenal storyteller, a writer of precise emotional detail. But there’s a cinematic scope to the neo-soul she and collaborator/executive producer Phoelix have created, befitting Los Angeles. More importantly, she hasn’t had to lose any of the rest of her cast of characters—astute political commentary, complex intellectual analysis, honest emotion—in order to fit in the sly sexual card. “I know he eat me like I’m wifey, he know my hotel over pricey/ So he gon’ fuck me like I’m Oprah, classy bitch only use a coaster,” she drops on the swanky ‘Montego Bae’, followed closely thereafter by a note about reading Toni Morrison in a canoe.
Missing Earth Gold, Flour, Salt Salinas Records
On their Bandcamp page, Missing Earth label their new record as both rock music and ‘Mind Expansion’, and while that first label is certainly an easy sell, the latter doesn’t make quite as much sense - at least initially. Occasionally dark, always brooding, there’s a sense of early REM in certain parts of their work, while the rest spits and snarls, the soundtrack to a lost and lonely character in some dimly lit bar in the back end of nowheresville, America. Formed of just eight tracks, with only one breaking the four-minute mark, it offers something of a fleeting diversion into the dark and stormy new world, which is, perhaps, where the mind-expansion comes in: it’ll make you feel like you’ve walked a fair thousand miles in its tough, sand-scorched boots, when it really only lasts for twenty-five minutes. A grizzly beast, and one of the best rock albums we heard all year. “I still see people tweeting me sometimes like I’m this generation’s Lauryn Hill or I’m like the conscious version of different female rappers,” she told FADER. “I’m not trying to be the anti-something or pro-something else.” Noname recounts the fated relationship that led to the loss of her virginity on the chilled, heartfelt ‘Window’. It’s not a breakup anthem, but one that addresses the physicality along with the pain and suffering in a single breath, Noname owning the experience as well as the steps forward. “Me so happy now, me so Mississippi/ Kiss me ‘til I drown, everybody think they know me/ Don’t nobody really know me,” she repeats on the chorus. The song swings from venting frustration at her ex to wishing him well, stopping in the middle to add that the glitzy production sounds like something that will lead to her next experience: “This song ain’t even about you, Daffy Duck/ This song gon’ make me go fuck your daddy/ This song the reason I be cleaning ‘fore I send him the addy.” She has loved, she has lusted, she has lost. She has experienced and suffered. She has experienced and revelled. But more importantly, the album shows that she’s also experiencing, in the moment, and will experience more—and will do so while inviting the audience along in her music. When the word of Bryant Giles’ arrest broke, Noname took a hard public stance. “I do not and will not support abusers, and I will always stand up for victims and believe their stories,” she tweeted. Room 25 isn’t definitively a response to the dark clouds swirling over the Chicago hip-hop scene, but it is a record that sounds a hell of a lot like revelling in sunshine peeking through, unexpected beams of light shining down and revealing new facets.Those clouds could be social, cultural, personal, a combination, but they are receding. Sexuality isn’t a new identity for Noname, but rather a part of her that she was able to own fully, bravely, and confidently, as the sun shines in.
Nature Shots Foreclosure Self-released
Wilfully ignored by the wider world, due to it’s January arrival, or perhaps, more pertinently, because it was a download-only Bandcamp release, Foreclosure (the work of Boston’s Michi Tassey) is simply a staggering achievement. A distinct tale of two halves, it features just eight tracks with four of those under two minutes in length. Delicate and alluring as each moment is, the record is most distinctly characterised by the stunning, weighty, centrepiece of ‘what is the word for when you are screaming and no one can hear?’ which bristles and broods through six incredible minutes, as enveloping as anything else we’ve heard this year. Grouper-esque in the foggy atmosphere that permeates throughout, Foreclose defines its own shape with stark, spacial guitars and a voice so alluring it’ll have you following to whatever depths it leads to. A masterpiece of mesmerising mood.
Soccer Mommy Fat Possum Records by Mel Reeve photography Natalia Mantini Prior to Clean - Soccer Mommy’s first studio album - Sophie Allison self-released music on Bandcamp, as well as a cassette tape with Orchid Tapes, and the mini-album Collection - a compilation of new songs and re-recordings of those early demos. Although Clean oozes teenage nostalgia and hazy summer romances, the sound is expansive; a work of real depth and complexity. Allison has the finesse of a songwriter who’s been doing this a while, yet to lose the lyrical intimacy of those youthful bedroom recordings. This album takes us on a journey of loving and learning, how it feels to discover that the person you love might not be the best person for you. As a listener, we live through Allison’s experiences with her; intense crushes and bad boyfriends, coming out the other side heavy with growth and learning and a blatant lack of melancholy or self-pity. Despite the subject matter, there are few slow moments, it’s all loud bass guitar lines and reverb. In an interview with Billboard Allison talked about how “sometimes I’ll be sitting in a room with dudes talking about Guns N’ Roses or whatever rock gods they’re thinking of, and I find that shit boring. The ruled-by-men genres are lame as fuck”. She’s not wrong, and has every right to assert her place in a genre that disproportionately celebrates the creative output of white men with guitars. While the debate rages on in some corner of the internet about the ‘death of guitar music’, artists like Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail, Adult Mom, Vagabon, and the triple threat of boygenius, are making guitar music that sounds like nothing else. “wasting all my time on someone who didn’t know me I was wasting all my time on someone who couldn’t love me” This is an album about growing up, how it feels to learn that love isn’t always good for you, and of discovering the darkness in the world – and it’s not just wolves to watch out for. On ‘Cool’ we get to relive the uniquely dreadful and wonderful experience of crushing on someone much cooler and scarier than yourself, “she’ll break you down and eat you whole/I saw her do it after school…she’s an animal/she won’t ever love no boy/she’ll treat you like a fucking toy”. ‘Last Girl’ also tackles these intense feelings, “she’s so cool/and the boys all drool/when she leaves with you”. Allison explores how jealousy can spill into infatuation, ending with the disarmingly cheery chorus of “why would you still want to be with me?/She’s got everything you’ll ever need”. The opening line of ‘Flaw’, sung in Allison‘s most gentle and vulnerable tone “baby, I’m all messed up…” is such a sudden shift in tone that it pulls you up short. Over a simple guitar riff that slowly builds, the lyrics reveal a complicated inner battle of blame and damage.
I found myself singing along to the chorus with its rising melody over echoing, beachy guitars without really realising the meaning of what I was saying, and when I did I had to catch my breath, “and I choose to let it stew/oh I choose, choose to blame it all on you/’cause I don’t like the truth”. The raw power of those words is reminiscent of Camp Cope’s ‘The Face of God’, which simultaneously tackles how insidious and complicated the feeling of blame can be. The track ends abruptly in the middle of the final line, “oh I choose, choose to blame it all on you, ‘cause I don’t like the truth, That none of this was you, I guess it’s just a-”
These individual journeys of love, loss, pain and learning culminate in ‘Scorpio Rising’ which begins with a scene straight out of an 80s teenage rom-com, “and kiss me in the park, we’ll meet up after dark, and we’ll talk until morning hits the windshield, and paints yellow lines on the field”. It feels like the whole album has been building up to this moment. The gentle guitar builds up only to fall away again as her voice rises and falls away with it, almost to a whisper to deliver one of my favourite lyrics ever, “and I’m just a victim of changing planets/my Scorpio rising and my parents”. With this line, the smile in her voice is gone and we hear the release of all that frustration and intense emotion, the anger and fear and joy that’s been building, all in this final chorus. This album is about understanding yourself through other people, how unsustainable that is and how ultimately you have to stand alone with yourself, “I want to be who I wasn’t”. Personally, it reminds me of the particular emotions and experiences of the transition from being a teenage girl to an adult. But it also shows just how exciting guitar music can be when it’s this good. Talking to Billboard Allison mentions how she “genuinely like[s] music by women better” and when she’s making music that blends a raw, emotional honesty with slick guitar riffs and addictive choruses, I think she’s right. Billboard (March 2019)
Hovvdy Double Double Whammy by Tom Johnson photography Johnna Henry Like a mirroring of our own lives, music has the ability to be present and exist outside of the here-and-now, creeping through the cracks of the linear world, from the listless background where shadows stem from and recline. Hovvdy’s music seems born of the latter, with even their most urgent moments feeling like a memory half-recalled, fleeting moments of clarity articulated then left to drift away. The Texas duo’s latest full-length (their second) is a beautiful - and beautifully restrained - collection of juxtapositions. The album’s title, Cranberry, conjures images of refreshing sweetness, then there are the song titles too: ‘In The Sun’, ‘Colorful’ ‘Petal’. The latter of those, ‘Petal’, also arrived with a tender video, a softlylit collection of footage which featured friends and dogs enjoying the golden days of summer evenings. Watch it with the sound off and you can almost smell the blossom on the trees, feel the wistful pull of those days where we seem to be held in place for a brief moment, not aged or ageing, not sullied by the world and our place in it. Play it with the sound on, however, and the momentum shifts entirely, that signature Hovvdy vocal, distant and blurred, lending an overwhelming sense of dejection to the piece, as if what we’re watching is a memory of what used to be, of something lost in the time between then and now, as is so often the way. “You say you’re tired from sleeping,” they sing on
subdued highlight ‘Colorful’, and it’s that sentiment that seems to best epitomise the record’s beguiling nature; of being slightly out of step with the day, of doing all of the right things but still feeling wrong, but also of those occasional moments where we find ourselves outside of our own balanced normalcy. In some ways, it rolls out like a soundtrack to the seasons. In fact, it’s hard to think of a record that so easily feels at home within each type of weather. There are the still, misty mornings of winter, the crispness of Spring, the changing patterns of Autumn, the gentle tug of nostalgia found deep in the heart of Summer. It’s a record that never stops growing, but one that grows so slightly, so carefully, that we barely even notice it at all. Like the nails on our fingers, like the lines on our skin. Like seeing a day in a life from so very close and then zooming out and out and out until it merges in with everything else but carries on regardless. In some way - in the best of ways - Cranberry’s magic isn’t the kind of magic that can be easily articulated. Some things can be pulled apart, piece by piece, to better understand them, but Hovvdy’s enchantment isn’t found in the actuality of its composition, not in its meat and bones. It exists elsewhere, in the places we can’t name, in the words we can’t say, in the anomalous space between life as we know it and life as we want it to be.
Goners Barsuk Records / City Slang
what people call low self-esteem… Tiny Engines
Staying steady and true upon her path to greatness, Laura Gibson has released a string of records over the past few years, each as good as the last, each meticulous and wholesome. Upon its release, new album Goners felt like another signature step forward but, like an inconspicuous flower blooming into something extravagant, repeated listens has seen it evolve beautifully into the very best collection of her career. “I’d known for a long time that I wanted to make a record about grief,” Gibson said. “In some ways, every song I’ve ever written has something to do with grief. This time around, I felt compelled to stare into the abyss.” Drifting between moments of stark folk music, the record is underpinned with expressive, elegant instrumentation which swells beautifully around Gibson’s always evocative vocals. A sublime, endearing, timeless record. It also has a wonderful dog on the album cover, if you still need convincing.
Shannon Taylor certainly has a way with words. Firstly there’s that band name, no capital letters, no spaces in between. Then there’s the title of her band’s new record, which is, to give it the full space it deserves: ‘what people call low self-esteem is really just seeing yourself the way that other people see you’. Both are lyric s from songs on the album, the band name arriving right in the heart of its ferocious opener (suitably titled, umm, ‘Opener’), one part of a splurge of sentiments that viscerally act as the epitome of Taylor’s craft: “All the regret I keep, all the mistakes I dread, exhausted from oversleep, awake but still in bed. Ashamed of the things I’ve said, afraid of what’s in my head.” A cacophonous swirling of various genres and DIY aesthetics, self-esteem is heartfelt and honest, raucous and unkempt; an emo/hardcore hybrid that manages to hit just as hard in the occasional moments of quiet restraint as it does in the tumultuous and thrilling bursts of pent-up angst.
Shades Spectraphonic Records In folk music it often seems like there are two types of voice: one plain-stated and gentle, the sound of a regret untouched, the other eerie and dramatic, like weather building in the far off distance, felt before it’s seen. Vera Sola is undoubtedly the latter, that striking voice journeying across every inch of her stunning new record, like darkness swallowing the day, like a looming presence you can’t explain. Which isn’t to say that Shades is overwhelmingly bleak, at all - more that it’s utterly bewitching, a collection of ten songs that prickle at the margins, hint at things unseen, spook with the most gentle of manners. Perhaps the whole record is, in fact, best represented by the album cover: a black and white photograph of an abandoned house, like a relic found, with a spooky white-dressed figure in the corner. Is she cowering? Hiding? Waiting to leap? It’s not immediately clear; perhaps the answer can be found within this very special record. Or, perhaps, we’re just not meant to know.
Float Dadstache Records Released via the excellent and ever under-the-radar label, Dadstache Records, Float is a, well, excellent and ever-under-the-radar gem from Giana Caliolo. First coming to our attention with a beautiful EP in 2017, Giana’s full-length debut was even more endearing, a gritty burst of guitar pop with the occasional tender glimmer. It does, in fact, summarise itself pretty well in the opening two tracks alone, with ‘What If ’ offering a frenzied and gleaming introduction, all restless and sparkling, before ‘Night Owl’ shrinks the Calicoco world a little, the brightness of the album’s first track dimmed a little, replaced by something more pensive and sensitive. It’s a changeable mood which prevails throughout, every action finding a reaction, every burst of life eventually finding a tether, and it makes for a brilliantly formidable, endlessly endearing piece of work.
Pat Moon Self-released by Trevor Elkin photography Paton Davis
Western Vinyl by Katie Cutforth photography Noiega Media No Fool Like An Old Fool is the second LP from Caroline Sallee under the Lou Reed-inspired alias Caroline Says. From start to finish the record feels like a scorching summer, Sallee’s steamy vocals murmured on top of Beach House-esque psychedelic guitars and muffled beats. Despite being recorded exclusively in a “disgusting, mildewed basement” No Fool is as expansive as a desert, bringing to mind pastel colours and vast open skies. The album is opened by the aptly named ‘First Song’, with softly chromatic guitar picking and soaring melodies that recall the gentle melancholy of Bert Jansch. “I don’t know why I still feel like something’s missing,” Sallee laments, introducing the record for what it is – sombre, mysterious, dreamlike. The surreal ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is a bittersweet homage to Sallee’s hometown and the depression that comes with returning. The crackling nostalgia is deadened by the lyrics: “I know everybody’s thinking of all the ways to get out”. ‘I Tried’ is the highlight of the record; the major key of the dreamy guitar melody and upbeat drums barely mask the true sorrow of the song, betrayed by the gloomy vocals. Sallee herself describes the track as the result of a fascination with the downfall of a celebrity, the disillusionment that would come from returning to an average life. Recorded half in the day, half at night, No Fool Like An Old Fool is a constant juxtaposition of loud and quiet, vocals almost whispered on top of fervent backing. The resulting sound is inseparable from its modest production and from the day-to- day emotions of the artist – as intimate as it is lovely.
Some music you have to yield your whole being to, falling endlessly, submitting to winds that could carry you anywhere. From the outset, Romantic Era, Kate Davis’ second album as Pat Moon, binds the listener in a spell of love, wrapping them up in cascading, foggy layers of analogue synth and dark, enchanting vocals. This is electronica, but it has never sounded so lush, alive and yet so ghostly with each song gliding delicately through one realm to the next. The dewy pine forests of opening track, ‘Moon In Aquarius’ create a sense that ancient mysteries play deep in its intricate branches. This is more overt on ‘Medieval Spells’ and ‘Spiralling’, which recall Tropic Of Cancer’s tenebrous incantations, with Davis’ words cutting through like prismatic shards, sometimes clean and clear, sometimes shattered and oblique, refracting endlessly. Other times, as on ‘Longing for The Infinite’ or ‘Star Maiden’ we are led through lost, long-abandoned halls dripping with warm candlelight. The enigmatic air of ‘I Belong’ or ‘The Way I Used To’ makes it hard to pinpoint the true source of Pat Moon’s quieting, echoing vocal presence. Their many voices gently dance and reel, cajoling the barely-felt rhythms of each song forwards, and us along with them. Moody, magical and ambient, Romantic Era is a heady follow up to 2016’s Don’t Hide From The Light. The final line of closing song, ‘One Million Reasons’, “don’t cover what you love, be the voice softly guiding you”, sums up this delightful album.
Faithful Fairy Harmony Fire Records
Another Side Of The Seams Meritorio Records/Hand Drawn Dracula
There’s really nobody else quite like Josephine Foster. Blessed not only with a special and unique vision, she also the kind of voice that could transfix a mountain, weaving its eerie spell upon the most hardened and inanimate of objects. Her latest record is another astonishing undertaking, featuring 18 tracks that add up to an hour and fifteen minutes of music that ebbs and flows, grips and loosens. Like catching a voice carried in the breeze, like a sacred old radio song stuck in time, Foster’s voice is a staggering tool, able to grab and hold the attention with the painstaking precision it takes to thread a needle in a storm. A mixture of short, unruly scraps that last for just a couple of minutes, and her more signature sprawls, which unroll across five, six, seven minutes, Faithful Fairy Harmony offers a departure like no other; a step back in time, a new world to inhabit.
“A dazzling, endlessly endearing collection of indie-pop gems,” is how we described this brilliant record upon its release, and its wholesome, jubilant strength was only reinforced over time, growing into one of the best guitarpop records that 2018 had to offer. A supergroup-ofsorts, with the band made up from various members of Fake Palms, Elsa, and U.S. Girls, Another Side Of The Seams is a glorious ten-track collection, drawing upon the likes of REM, The Go-Betweens, and all those other bands of yesteryear that are constantly thrown in as comparisons for music of this ilk. Thankfully, for all of us, The Seams absolutely thrive on their own merits too, and, in their greatest moments - of which there are plenty - they craft the kind of brazen, unabashed indiepop that makes the world feel like a wholly brighter place. Here’s hoping they have many more sides yet be revealed.
Saving A Beauty, the follow-up to his equally immersive Actual Food LP of 2016, finds Josh Marré in suitably spacious and steady territory, utilising a full band to craft one of those tender and beautifully articulated folk records that seems to settle like a morning frost; all subtle light, the weight of silence, a day slightly changed. En-pointe, Marré has a voice all chiselled and weather-beaten, rusted by the great outdoors but standing firm regardless, waiting for the sun to return and bring it back to full life. As such, Saving A Beauty occasionally stumbles, unravelling somewhat as nuanced moments of disjointed soundscapes transform the mood, but it’s at its most endearing when it’s as contained as it is considered. On songs such as the countrified ‘Montana’, or the record’s more robust title-track, it delivers both of those things with graceful aplomb, tentatively blossoming into a beautiful life of its own.
For the first minute of I’ll Sing’s opening track, Shannen Moser’s voice is cracked and distant, set way back in the mix before suddenly bursting into clarity. Given the tender country twang of both her voice and band, it’s hard not to imagine yourself in some dimly-lit American bar, that beautiful voice caught above the surrounding conversation, reaching you from somewhere off in the distance, drawing you in, closer and closer, before it’s the only thing in front of you. The whole record, in fact, has a rich and thrillingly live sound; ‘thrilling’ in the way that it places you right there alongside her, ‘thrilling’, still, despite the brokenhearted laments it delivers, song after aching song. Stand-out moment ‘Every Town’ is indicative of her craft, an age-old ballad seemingly plucked front the great American songbook and filtered through her own decadent vision. “In every town there’s someone just like me, missing someone like you. In every town there’s a feeling like the feeling that I had when I was with you,” she sings with the kind of earnest conviction that fills the space around you; the same kind that has floored us all, at some time; year after year, time after time.
Saving A Beauty Five Kill Records
I’ll Sing Lame-O Records
Gia Margaret Orindal Records by Hannah Boyle Growing up, I floated through the hours and days, seemingly drowning in the journey of “find yourself, fast”. I was painstakingly passive, not present — perpetually longing for a lifebuoy upon which to attach my pain and desires, something to emerge and with it, provide the answers, show me who I should be.
companionship and experience, lofty and bountiful in its entirety. Margaret captures the innocence of love felt and unravelling, unravelled, stuck between the past and present and the in-between, stirring within me nostalgia for memories yet to solidify, experiences yet to occur, loves yet to materialise.
Maybe you’re looking too hard for something good in your heart
I’d like to know you somehow In normal ways
nothing real comes that way
I want to feel you changing I want to feel your weight
For that it will never work out,
By chance, I stumbled upon Bon Iver’s ‘Blindsided’ and unearthed what I had been looking for: music as accompaniment, music to understand, music to evolve to. Gia Margaret’s debut There’s Always Glimmer evokes something in me that is often hard to discover; a raging undercurrent of wrought emotion felt through song and sound, akin to the likes of For Emma ten years previous. A soundtrack to angst and pain and trauma alike, the fragility of sound and the stories it encapsulates, Glimmer hovers softly above the quieter noise of the night; never silent, sometimes roaring, always plentiful. Rarely do I happen upon a record that provides such a response. On a first listen I was struck with the nostalgia of flitting through those younger years, innocent and naive and looking ahead, stuck in the maybes and what ifs. I was alone searching for signs Like stones sinking
From the plain-stated poetry of hope in album opener ‘Groceries’ to the heartfelt whispers of ‘Smoke’, Glimmer intertwines warm, mesmeric instrumentation with Margaret’s own soothing and layered vocals; this is a marriage of divinity. For me, it is a companion I can cherish and revel in. Something that brings comfort and a clasped embrace in the late hours. This is a record of loving, learning, hurting, and growing. Of making sense of the tumultuous world that we live in through our relationships, our mischiefs, our choices. A striking collection of twelve wistful lullabies; vignettes of
Growing up, music had me yearning for a lived experience. Now, it has taught me that this life may be startling and hardship and rain, but there’s always glimmer. I found subtle comfort in the beauty of gentle, rhythmic, vulnerable sound, and still do. This is a record of abundance, of resonance and gut-punches but always fragility; in each listen I find myself young again, learning to love the world that unfolds beyond me.
Mastersystem Physical Education Recordings introduction by Tom Johnson photography Sally Lockey Context isn’t everything, but it’s a hell of a lot. There are, however, ways of pulling it apart; of stripping back the paint to reveal only what lies underneath, what was originally there. Whether Mastersystem’s one-and-only record requires such a thing is still hard to say, but it’s also true that it was immediately received with great enthusiasm before its new-found context had a chance to creep in from the shadows. Dance Music is a roaring and boisterous beast, a rampant animal with glowing eyes and a warm heart, equally afraid of its own reflection as we are of it. It’s an album that soars. An album that punches. An album that is driven by snarling, weighty guitars and frenetic, inspired drum fills. It’s an album driven by creative pursuits outside of the day-to-day, of new ventures just for the sake of them, of letting loose outside of the watchful eye. It’s the work of two sets of brothers, Scott Hutchison and Grant Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit), Justin Lockey (Editors), James Lockey (Minor Victories). It bristles with energy throughout but also feels exceedingly anxious, restless even; embodying the crippling disease of inertia, of endlessly questioning who you are and what the fuck we’re all doing here, just sitting around, waiting for the click. Those ideas are then given light and flight by a songwriter who could channel such sentiments better than most. Dance Music isn’t a powerful, meaningful album because of what happened to Scott Hutchison after it. It’s a powerful, meaningful record because of Scott Hutchison. I remember Scott telling me about it very early on, how buoyant he was about it. I remember hearing it for the first time and just fucking grinning at how fun and uninhibited the whole thing was. A passion project for all of them, a nod to the music they loved growing up. A great gust of catharsis. I remember all of these things coming to fruition when seeing them perform live, seeing a new energy in Scott, a new glint in his eye. A bird not yet bored of flying. I remember how it changed in the aftermath, how the words themselves began to penetrate, how the shadows moved across it, smothering, enveloping. But this record isn’t only about Scott. It’s about the four people who made this record, the bonds created and kept, about the importance of endeavours, and getting shit done when
such a thing can feel impossible. It’s about fun, friendship, and failure. It’s about the joy of loud, melodic, aggressive hooks and how those things can sometimes - for reasons we don’t need to understand - be enough. Dance Music kicks the shit out of you and then hugs you all in the very same motion. It hurt likes hell, and I’m so very glad it exists. Upon the album’s release, Justin and Scott wrote a track-by-track guide to their album for the Gold Flake Paint website. We’re sharing again here because it feels right to do so. Because, even reading it back again now, it hurts like hell, but we’re so very glad it exists.
“Acknowledgement of who you are cannot be achieved without acknowledging those who shape your life”
Track-by-track Guide words by scott hutchison & justin lockey Proper Home Scott: Quick note to start us off here: I can only really speak about the lyrical content on this album because I didn’t play a note of guitar on Dance Music. All of the tracks came to me pretty much fully formed when the Lockey bruvs sent the first few tracks about a year ago and I didn’t feel the need to mess with what was already a really exciting set of instrumentals. This one was in that first batch. Justin and James, in spite of now being highbrow artistes, still retain a very strong Doncaster accent. Everything’s “proper this” and “proper that”. That’s proper mint that, our kid. I thought it was only right to build a tiny bit of that dialect into the music they had made. At the time of writing the words for those first five tracks, I had just reached the tail end of a rather busy year or so of touring with Frightened Rabbit. It’s that feeling of being plonked back into normal life after months of not having to deal with it all. How do I give my days structure? Where am I supposed to BE? It’s not a complaint as such, because I feel very fortunate to be a full time working musician, but it can be difficult to see or feel your roots at times.
Justin: Aye, this one was actually made up of a track that James wrote that didn’t work out so I cannibalised the drums and made a new tune out of it whilst dicking around with some pedals one afternoon. It was initially called ‘james’ shit track’ but then it turned into something else and then when Scott came to Yorkshire to get his chips round it, it turned from a messy fuck about into something resembling a proper tune. And a proper tune it turned out to be in the end, album opener and all that. Notes On A Life Not Quite Lived SH: I like coming up with Morrissey titles. It’s a bit of a pastime of mine, even though (or possibly because) I don’t really
Utero’ by Nirvana and ‘Seamonsters’ by The Wedding Present. Two of my favourite records of all time. The Enlightenment SH:t This is turning into pure selfflagellation now, so I’ll temper it by saying I don’t think I’m a total waste of space, but it’s worth thanking the people around you who make you a better human. The ones who call you out when you’ve done a mischief, those who teach you to be empathetic when it is unfortunately not your first instinct. Acknowledgement of who you are cannot be achieved without acknowledging those who shape your life and attitudes. I’m not just using this song
the previous paragraphs, but it’s fun to pretend to be a badass from time to time. JL: ‘Teething’ is probably one of the best pieces of music I’ve been involved in. It’s way too long but it’s worth it for the kick off at the end. I didn’t have a fucking clue what Scott was gonna do to it vocally because it just drones on and on...but he brought a ton of melodies and it worked. I think this was the first one me and James got up in the studio and thought “this is gonna be a good record”. Peaks & Troughs & Graves SH: I don’t trust happiness. I remember a feeling of unease even as a wee boy when the seas were calm and
“The melody bone is not situated where you may think it is, I believe it’s somewhere in my chest, perhaps circling the heart if not twirling away inside of it.”
like The Smiths. Yeah, I fucking said it, stroll on. We are going to see a theme emerging throughout this album, so forgive me if I rattle on about closely related subjects. Being in a band hasn’t made me a great adult. It’s given me so many wonderful gifts, but logical thinking and common sense didn’t come with the territory for me. I often feel I’m falling short of the national standard of what a grown-up is supposed to be and I know there’s still time to claw it back a bit but...will I bother? JL: I’m with Scott on this to be honest, never really been into The Smiths, don’t know why as I make a living playing miserable music, so it feels like I should be into them by default. They remind me of people who wore suede blazers at school and banged on about how cool France is and philosophy. Wasn’t really into that. This was the first tune I wrote for this record, and it’s part just ripping the fuck off ‘In
as a blanket “cheers” to everyone by the way. That would be horrendously lazy and insincere. Fancy a coffee next week, Tom? Teething SH: This one is notable for me as it’s the first time I’ve used the word “baby” in a song. I don’t have a problem with anyone else using it, per se, I just never had the carefree lifestyle required to slip it in there. But wait, it’s not just any old baby, it’s cleverly aligned with the notion of TEETHING. Do you see what I did there? I like how this album gave me the opportunity to go into character at times. Add some swagger to my hunched walk, put a bit of bravado in the fecklessness. I was trying (and certainly failing) to channel a bit of Iggy with a splash of Nick Cave on this one. That attitude is just not something that comes naturally to me, as you may have deciphered from
all was quiet and content. In my mind, contentment surely must be followed swiftly by turmoil and that’s what makes me uneasy. I think too many people are pretending to be happy these days. We pretend to be in love too, because it’s what you do, isn’t it? Show everyone how much you mean to each other whilst forgetting that you only need to show the person standing right in front of you. We pretend we’re having an amazing time, even when we’re going through a few days of relentless diarrhoea. I say “we” because I’m guilty of this too. Don’t look to other people’s lives for confirmation that you’re doing yours right. Theirs will usually appear to be better than yours. Old Team SH: This title was actually the first band name we used before “Mastersystem” was stolen from a large corporation and
repurposed for the scuzzy indie rock biz. I think this is my favourite track on the album. It sums it all up for me. Yes, I feel a bit old and fucked these days, but there’s a reason for that. The four of us have been chipping away at various musical/artistic ventures for well over a decade, which although it hardly makes us Sonic Youth, is still a reasonable whack of the skittles in this day and age. JL: I feel a bit old and fucked these days too. But not too old to whip up a cheeky uptempo number. This is my favourite vocal on the record and I reckon it sums the whole record up. Tried a solo kinda thing on the drop down too, which kinda worked. The bass is really fucking loud though. And that’s alright. Must Try Harder SH: This one was written just as Harvey Weinstein’s rotten core was being exposed, along with the mouldy cores of many other well-known and not-so-wellknown men. It’s a tough thing to talk about publicly for many reasons, but for starters, I think it’s time for men to listen a lot more instead of talking all the fucking time. Secondly, no male is blameless. If you think you are exempt from it all then you’re a shitting idiot. It’s about trying harder to be genuinely thoughtful and good, thinking before you act or speak and once again LISTENING AND LEARNING. I
am not by any means a shining example of modern man, by the way. But we’re here now, so let’s make improvements. JL: What happens when four fellas grew up listening to Smashing Pumpkins? This track happens. We’re nowhere in the same galaxy technically as musicians but fuck it. Love the chorus on this and Grants outrageous fucking drum fill is a proper moment. A Waste of Daylight SH: I am writing this from a bed with the curtains drawn on the sunniest day in Glasgow for quite some time. It’s so easy to slip into this mode. I love it and I hate it. I’m prone to depression. It’s not something I try to hide anymore, but being open about it doesn’t mean I don’t continue to have days where the idea of going outside borders on terrifying. I sometimes feel I could stay like this for weeks if I didn’t have shit to do. I think of Brian Wilson in his beddy days and feel envy. It’s no way to live though. I will probably head out after I’ve done this, honest. Bird Is Bored Of Flying JL: I think every album I loved growing up had a good long noodly end of record closer. I miss that, I know sometimes it’s just self-congratulation and back-
slapping disguised in a bunch of circular chord patterns but this one is my favourite on the record. Melodically it’s probably closest to what Scott does in Frightened Rabbit... but me and James didn’t give a Fuck because they’re one of our favourite bands anyway. So, all in all, it’s a win-win. Scott did the vocals in about 10 minutes and then the record was finished and all was good with the world. Well happy. SH: This one instantly appealed to my melody bone. The melody bone is not situated where you may think it is, I believe it’s somewhere in my chest, perhaps circling the heart if not twirling away inside of it. When Justin sent the instrumental tracks over to me, they had fairly utilitarian titles. ‘Ultra Fuzzy Fucker’, ‘Melodic Fast Fucker’ and ‘A Tune For Scott 3’. This one came in and was simply named ‘End’ and that’s what it turned out to be. It’s got what it takes to close out an album: slightly indulgent in length, a classic move for any rock closer. It has all the big poses that you’ve witnessed so far on the album, just in a more “epic” format. Major key warmth, wide open lyrical spaces, and a damn fine drum performance by the wee man too. Almost collapses into chaos, burns itself on the sun like that twat from the past. I loved being part of this album and am really grateful that James and Justin invited me into the Mastersystem. Thanks, chaps, it’s a proper belter.
Gold Flake Paint A Music Journal 2019 Subscription
Pre-order Issues 3, 4, 5 for just Â£26 + postage: GOLDFLAKEPAINT.BANDCAMP.COM
gold flake paint
Only So Much Time It’s happened a handful of times across the years, a link and a short message from Mat Riviere: “Hey Tom, something new…” I listen, immediately fall in love, scribble some words, and then watch the whole thing quietly drift away into the distance. Mat Riviere is one of those artists, you see. The kind that crafts these strange, singular, exquisite pop songs from the shaded corners of his own space, then sends them out into the world, and, more often than not, moves on to whatever comes next. There seems to be no real desire to “make it” (whatever that might mean in this day and age), no great push for critical acclaim, and as such, Mat Riviere remains somewhat in the background, a name mostly unknown, yet known as a musical wizard by a select few who hold his work so very dearly.
Gold Flake Paint
Matt Riviere I wrote most of these songs in 2016, although there’s elements in some of them that are a lot older. This release has had a bunch of different stages, like the songs were more or less written and recorded by early 2017, but I wasn’t really sure what to do with them, or releasing stuff wasn’t really on my mind. I started playing them live and I think gradually felt more comfortable with them as a set of songs. Over the last six months I’ve been mixing with Oli (Horton, Dreamtrak) and re-recording the odd thing. I’m always sending stuff back and forth with Joel (Midden, Bastardgeist) also, who lives in Austin. His vocals sometimes point towards lots of different melodic ideas and that collaborative process was super important with these songs.
2013’s ‘Not Even Doom Music’ LP caused the biggest stir, heralded by The Quietus, among a few other select connoisseurs. Then there’s the occasional promotional push elsewhere; a video premiere on Noisey; the occasional spike of interest from the wider blog world. I should say that none of this is supposed to sound downbeat. Some music just isn’t made for wide public consumption, and one gets the feeling that Riviere is quite content in the nuanced alternative world he’s built for himself. His music, while often beautifully warm, is also beguiling and leftfield; shards of white noise piercing the surrounding golden glow. New EP Accident Book, however, is perhaps his most considered and concise work so far; six songs of inventive bedroom pop, wonderfully unique, still, but also wholesome and tender and open to anyone who might one day stumble upon it; a six-song collection of soft keys, gently skewed vocals, and that same level of exploration that has always underpinned his work. words & interview Tom Johnson
When did you start piecing together Accident Book, and what instigates a project turning from seeds of an idea into something fully formed?
There’s always such subtle experimentation in your work. Do your writing processes tend to vary a lot? Do you tend to work in the same way now as when you were first releasing music? MR I don’t feel like things have changed drastically. The recording process is often the same as the writing process. That seems significant. I think it has had a big impact on how I think about structure. For instance, a couple of these were just written on a keyboard and have more traditional verse/chorus structures, but normally if I’m working on something at a computer, or while recording, I think of it structurally as more like an arc or a path. photography Jake May
giving myself to write. Things can feel different and awful now in the same way that everything feels different and awful at the moment, but I also feel a certainty of intention that I didn’t use to, especially with playing shows and thinking through what it means to perform and be in a space. That feels positive. GFP
Accident Book has a really distinct feel to it were there any specific influences on it? What were you hoping to achieve with it, and did that change over time? MR 2016 was a strange year and I felt aware that these songs were maybe coming from a nastier place than a lot of previous things I have done. Maybe it’s just that lyrically they are more direct and more obviously narrative. I think there was a process of trying to balance the nastiness with something. Some of the arrangements seems quite over the top to me. It’s quite a self-pitying release and maybe the later stages of recording and mixing became about exaggerating that. GFP
You (and your music) seems like something of an outlier of the UK DIY scene. How do you feel about the musical landscape of the UK just now, and do you want to be more of a part of it? Does that kind of thing matter to you? MR I’ve always felt ok about that I think. There’s an awkwardness in my relationship to any kind of ‘scene’ that seems very inseparable from who I am as a person. I’m super grateful for the kindness and support that exists in the DIY scene though. I played a show in Brighton with Furore (Roxy Brennan) recently and we realised we have been playing shows together and listening to/ supporting/responding to each other’s music for 10 years or something. Those kind of relationships seem really special to me - that there is some kind of quiet dialogue happening, a back and forth of ideas or feelings or sounds. Sometimes it can feel like we have all made something together and it’s hard not to feel good about that. That’s more than I ever could have wanted from making music. There’s also a bunch of people releasing music who I’m really excited by at the moment, I love Great Dad and Cix and the new Competition stuff, they’re all just exploring routes outside of ‘guitar band’ but broadly still within the context of that scene. GFP
Do you feel more or less positive about being a musician now compared to when you started out? MR I probably wouldn’t think of it as a linear thing. I’ve always felt bad about it sometimes and good about it sometimes, that’s still the same. It’s quite unpredictable and also a lot to do with how much space or time I’m ‘Accident Book Ep’ is released on February 4th.
You worked with a few collaborators for this EP - can you tell us a little bit about them and what they brought to the project. MR The main collaborators are Joel Midden on vocals and Steve Brett on clarinet. I have spoken a bit about Joel already. He is the person I work with most closely on music, sometimes I ask him to do quite specific things vocally that I can’t do and other times he will just try out a bunch of ideas and we’ll see what sits best in the song, or if they make me think really differently about bits I have already done. Steve’s contributions were really key to Exit Scheme and View, those songs were both reworked a lot after he sent me his takes, and although there was less back and forth there was a similar process of responding to what he’d done and letting it shape the songs. GFP
There’s a real sense of balance and space on Accident Book - was that something you were conscious of when making it? MR There was definitely a move away from rhythm, or putting drums on everything. I wanted the songs to feel more like ballads, I think; percussive, occasionally, but more often letting the vocals lead. I don’t know how successful this was to be honest! But there’s more space and, I think, different ways of thinking about filling the space. GFP
What does the rest of 2019 hold for you? Any plans for a full-length follow-up to Accident Book? MR I’m not sure what will happen with regards to a follow up. I’m extremely slow at finishing things and I’m also enjoying putting effort into more explicitly collaborative things at the moment. I’m playing in a guitar band (Canadian Embassy), so writing quite a lot for that and I started a tape label (Bleak Spring) in 2017 with Katie Sheppard who has done the artwork for Accident Book. The idea of the label was to create some kind of home for people making broadly electronic music but who feel maybe unsure of where it fits or what to do with it. It just felt like something that there was space for and so far that seems to be true. It’s a slow process also but there’s at least a couple of releases planned for this year.
gold flake paint
WAT C H E D WHAT WE THINK ABOUT GOING TO GIGS AS WOMEN ALONE
We are constrained by timetables of travel opportunity, of dark runs of rat from station to gig and back with unseen eyes of follow, drop offs of warning, illuminated concrete of car parks that glower with watching. Watching the cracks in the pavement to avoid unwanted eye contact of unfocused. We see and hear more in the dark of imagined. You are in Liverpool to attend an academic conference on beyond the pedestrian. A day of thinking and hearing about different ways of walking, of moving, of p ublic spaces and private bodies. Ways of wander and wonder and individuals and groups being stopped in their tracks. You are not an academic but like most women are educated in these thoughts. Liverpool has long been on your list of places you would like to explore, but before you get there you see that a band you love is playing Manchester on the evening you arrive. You weigh up the costs, financial and otherwise, the chances of ever seeing them anytime soon anywhere near where you live, the giving up of a first evening in a city you’ve not been in words by Clare Archibald
for 26 years. You try and remember the last time you saw Pram and count 20, maybe more years. The numbers aren’t correlatable and you figure that Liverpool will still be there, although perhaps gentrifably different, when Pram gigs are no more. You book a ticket and think you’ll worry about the details later. We whirl in gigs that do not land isolated in space. We hear stories, tell tales, write words of warning and restraint and we dizzy often only with perceived heights of impossible. Have daughters who do not wear long crinoline but are chaperoned in halt of free dreaming. We have venues formed from music and maze of conventions in reaching them. We have false talk of men who make music and women who look good on stage. We are told we must not wander and therefore must lose the wonder. We are said to be just fans and groupies and only like the hits. We are quietly told what to expect. We are squeezed from the musical histories of buildings unless we are the exceptions. Sometimes we are unbuilt in invisible before the ticket is ever bought. illustrations Hannah Boyle
You spend the day listening to ways of moving through the worlds we live in and invent. You hear, see, watch, women rail at the confines and you wonder aloud how this will change in reality when you have a daughter who was reported to the police for simply playing outside alone. You are upholder of a daughter who resists the giving of her place in the world, you are a receiver of police who have to do their job with dismay and embarrassment of time wasted. Enraged by imbalance of risk of real and imaginedyou walk both feet in attempt of fine tune of words. We are holders of permission and explore, of return the stares but stay safe. Of this is how you stand with only sway of music to dizzy your dreams. T he you n g e r y ou a l w ay s daydreamed of being Simone De Beauvoi r a nd eat i ng a lone at a restaurant every night. This for you, was indulgence of autonomy, and liberty of watching others, so you relish the luxury of eating pizza alone after the conference. You don’t think specifically about the fact of shortly travelling solo to another city.
You don’t expect the ticket seller at the train station to tell you not to go but he does. You ask about last trains and he warns of a replacement bus service and dark and danger of extended unusual. You ignore his words in action but carry the hum of his pre-judgement in your head. Manchester is a city that you know just enough to mentally navigate your way to a venue that you’ve been to once before. You know that the toilets are unisex, that the bar staff are friendly, roughly how long it takes to get from the station by foot. You don’t want to be drunk, but also don’t want to have a soft drink that will be gone in less time than it takes the band to take the stage. You look around and see no other women on t he i r ow n . You are standing by the bar where some men on their own are also claiming a space of back of room nonchalance. You hold your pint of lager and feel
the bright of your green dress reflected in it, in not really caring what people think. There are couples and happy drunks and a man with a pen, name dropping to another lone male. You feel safe in the small space that allows you to submerge your mind and body in the music. You asked on the way in when it would finish and so only check the time every couple of songs, just in case. Y ou let your body go. We weigh up the cocktail of conform drunkenly with friends or go alone and
be free to not drink, to stand where we want, to buy a t shirt we already have except from a different location. We swill the pint of dancing drunkenly alone if we feel like it. We measure the scope of dancing with abandon of time irrespective of what or who is drunk or not. Stand leaning on columns or dancing with eyes of closed at the front. Feel weightless in the moment o f o n l y o u r o w n pleasurewith no need to check the eyes of others for the same.
in a circle of almost lost but do not panic because only you are aware of it, y ou think. We spike our desires with real and imagined worry of others, have drinks dr ipped in piss of disrespect and uncare, memories wiped by secret pill
YOU LOOK AROUND AND SEE NO OTHER W O M E N O N T H E I R O W N . YOU LOOK AROUND AND SEE NO OTHER W O M E N O N T H E I R O W N . YOU LOOK AROUND AND SEE NO OTHER W O M E N O N T H E I R O W N . YOU LOOK AROUND AND SEE NO OTHER W O M E N O N T H E I R O W N . YOU LOOK AROUND AND SEE NO OTHER W O M E N O N T H E I R O W N . YOU LOOK AROUND AND SEE NO OTHER W O M E N O N T H E I R O W N . YOU LOOK AROUND AND SEE NO OTHER W O M E N O N T H E I R O W N .
You le ave j u s t after the set, no external chat of deconstructed wonder to stay for and go for the train. You wait on the platform and are surrounded by hordes of young people in arena gig t-shirts you do not recognise, sleeve tattoos in unison of happy but you feel only interest not envy. There is banter on the train, but it does not notice you because you are not a young woman, alone or not. The replacement bus is miles from the centre and you silently thank the efficiency of on time and no waiting and the range of people on it that allows the quiet song of not quite anxiety to remain as background noise to cosy. You get off in the centre of Liverpool and manage to walk
of real others. We feel pits transformed into cess as hands and hard bodies think they possess us, our motion suspending their belief in our rights. W orry about taking up too much space or occupying so little we will be overturned. We dance as if all are watching.
We immerse ourselves in environments of held trauma to overcome the power of the memories, to reclaim the notes as we want to play them. We are not seen but we are there, and we are brave and eventually we enjoy what should never have been taken away in fields and stadiums and frenzy of dead melodies. There will always be men (and some women) who are not there for the music. As you daylight and dark wander about Liverpool you think of the patterns of embed, of the becoming second nature to feel almost free to. Of first times decades before and how you made yourself do it. Made yourself listen to what you wanted and go to the gig alone. Of why of wanting to see the band whatever,
gold flake paint
and how of drinking too much too quick so as not to care. Of an empty red seat next to you that flashed with both embarrassment and reassurance when you saw someone you knew next to it. You think about your friend who couldn’t come because she had her own frontwoman gig to play and think she too made the right choice. There is a procession of women in your head, friendly ones on the door that laugh at the volume within your bag, behind merch desks and record shop counters with words of encourage and interest. Sound waves of women’s words hitting ears and eyes from podcasts and reviews, of word of mouth, on the radio, the television, the internet, on the street with headphones and without. Real- life signals of positive beats of possible and you feel proud of these unstitchers visually and verbally picking at the stories women are told of their place. A re emboldened by their examples of taking up the space.
height or drunk of disorientation. Of being lucky to share music with friends and lovers in dance of understanding, of not having the moment ruined by different taste of bored face and leaving early or arriving late. Straightforward twenties and mid-thirties with no thought of turns to go out or childcare or newly felt parental responsibility of getting home safely alone. In deep acts of uncool you ask venues and bands the set times despite knowing they will enact the ritual of ignore. You wonder the reason for the ritual out loud online and are told in reason that it depends on soundchecks, in realism that it boils down to songs to be sung in drunken chorus of profit. You watch in silence as accusations are flung by others that asking for set times equates to wanting small venues to die out, assumptions of wanting to know so as to drink alcohol elsewhere until the main act comes on. You wonder what would happen if all gig goers were sober, and feel annoyed
D A N C E A S I F A L L W A T C H I N G
A R E E M B O L D E N E D E X A M P L E S O F T A K I N G
We go with uncoil of nerves in open to experience, make friends of new in places we will come to know. Find our own fan-base of support in lines of adoration and follow. Wonder at the time we have wasted on buying expensive tickets of unused, watching as others go with the flow not realising that the crowd is not everyone. We blether in toilets and fields and swap numbers of safe meaning and this is what it means to share. We are admired by unknown others as we immerse in indulge of falling in waves of sound that carry without grope, in mind and body floating in free, leaning in to the music wherever we stand or sit. You think of how you spent many years in a whirl of gigs of mainly together, only alone when separated by
B Y U P
purpose, as definition, as defence. We are marked out by our contours, by our difference, by borders that we cross, by the language that we speak, our confidence in the carry and by our very absence in the room. You go to more gigs alone now because you can take a notebook and you can make choices, define your own pleasure. You like to be alone to focus, are familiar, comfortably alert with the adrenaline pace of going home from anywhere alone as long as the transport works, and last trains are not cancelled. You go to gigs with partner and friends but know that if they were to disappear you would still go alone in enjoyment of your individual experience in rooms of collective, attend online after parties if you really wanted to. Hormones slosh in in unsway of assertive invisible and you know your own life worth and limits regardless of other people’s wondering of lonely or sad or too old even if that is sometimes how you too might feel.
A R E T H E I R T H E S P A C E .
on behalf of the ones who try to be. You see a woman suggest that asking for times must mean that you do not support the support acts and wonder at how a shared passion becomes a tug of war in either or and how lucky she is that for her it is straightforward. T he question of choices of misunderstood resonates so loudly that you cannot hear the arguments. We add pounds to babysitter charges, get to places too early to spend money we do not have on drinks we do not want in order to reduce the awkwardness or anxiety of waiting, waiting to be judged as somehow weird or sad or irresponsible or simply alone. I n waiting for music in our ears and eyes we play with hair and finger phones, write worries in flip of fake notebooks, take photographs with
We scan, and we check the room for changes in atmosphere or contact, dancing with wait until the lights lower in parallel of expectations of group chat, of judged monologues of internal. Suss security as paid allies in opening the space to leap and teeter. Judge others in ways we do not want tobut feel we must to mentally mark our places of safe. We watch unscientific polls of most men having gone to gigs alone, we reply in private with detail of brave, of honest and enraged. We use technology to help us feel safe and fill time. We grow less tolerant of talking and picture taking and not listening to the words but a woman alone asking to hear is dismissed as a misery. We think that we have never thought about how we would do most things alone but not go to a gig and wonder why. Talk of seats
and size, age and height, hordes of likeminded meet ups and prefer to be alone and in the moment fully, wanting waves of sound instead of people. We have our lives restarted by death and divorce, transitions and new places and take the plunge of emerging patterns and surge in sound. We differentiate our risk in individual terms of jazz, folk, queer, beer boys, clubbing. We carry a multitude of untold stories of safe and exciting, known and unknown . Of times when it even felt safer to be a woman. We do it and we do it again and we repeat the patterns of pleasure until we wonder why we didn’t do it earlier because we feel the joy of it. You think of the women on stage watching the watchers and remember a young Anna Calvi in a basement when the leer of men around you was palpable. You told the ones closest to show some respect that she was a musician not meat and they told you that you were just jealous. You were with a friend and had a safety net and temperament of not caring but these are the watched and felt put downs that seep into ideas of safe. There must be found kilter of risk aware and risk taking, leaps of faith into sounds and rhythms of unexpected. You think of this when you hear of 13-year olds who go to their first gig unexpectedly alone, girls of brave excitement and worry of balancing the thrill with the trust of others. Layers of experience that should not build as scar tissue of expected. Girls bodies should spin in kaleidoscopic blur of neon melody not fragments of luck and timing from shattered foundations of codes of no conduct for staff or audience. We do it and we do it again and we repeat the patterns of pleasure until we wonder why we didn’t do it earlier or why we stopped doing it because we feel the joy of it, of our choice. We think we will do it again. We wait in the long in between, even k nit and say I dare you to comment, we read and ignore the words, we read and mouth the words. We face fierce and resting bitch and say do not mess with me. We are dotted at gigs for serious men in uncowed reminder that w e too are here for the music. Repeating and relaxing in replication of the records,
C A R R Y
M U L T I T U D E
U N T O L D
S T O R I E S
S A F E
A N D
E X C I T I N G ,
K N O W N
A N D
U N K N O W N
T I M E S
F E L T
grooving patterns of behaviour as who we choose to be. We are allies of are you okay and join us if you’d like, smiles of enjoy with no pressure and we do not think you are alone and unlikeable or socially defunct. We a r e v i b r a n t , m a k i n g memories of places and people, building pulsating networks of connect and learning. We are moving through the spaces in flow of internal rhythm, in beat of only ourselves and our right to choose to be there alone. Su r g i n g i n si n g u l a r it y or informal unison for the live rendition of body and mind in synergy of music. Walking steps of together in routes home of the same. Watching the words of connection fall in easy harmony of perhaps only f leeting acquaintance. Standing up when ot hers fall down or are pushed, holding imaginary hands of human of daring to be different, themselves. We must mouth the words in watch and encouragement of each other. Watch others watch you and tell them you are there. We do it and we do it again and we repeat the patterns of pleasure until we wonder why we didn’t do it earlier or why we stopped doing it because we feel the joy of it, of our choice. We keep on doing it.
W H E N
E V E N
S A F E R
THANK YOU TO ALL THE WOMEN (AND MEN) WHO SHARED THEIR THOUGHTS AND EXPERIENCES FOR THE PIECE. FIND SAFE GIGS FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS AGAINST ONLINE. THEY WORK TO COUNTER THE NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF GIGGING FOR GIRLS AND WOMEN.
W O M A N C L A R E A RC H I B A L D C U R AT E S LO N E WOMEN IN FLASHES OF WILDERNESS, A COLLABORATIVE PROJECT EXPLORING WOMEN’S THOUGHTS & EXPERIENCES OF ALONENESS, DARKNESS AND WILDERNESS. THERE WILL BE A LONE WOMEN EVENT IN FOLLOW UP TO THIS PIECE.
gold flake paint
A BLISTERED HEART STILL KICKS
Marthaâ€™s brilliant third album retains all the joyous escapism of their past work while turning its eye - and heart - towards the darker acts of living.
words by Tom Johnson
gold flake paint
Among all the swirling exultations, amid the affiliated melodrama, there’s usually one specific moment that solidifies a relationship between yourself and those artists you deem to be your very favourites. The ones that mean something more than just a record to throw on, a gig to attend. For me and Martha it was End Of The Road festival, 2016. A sweaty Tipi Tent. A thriving, undulating mosh pit that I wasn’t a part of but watched on, in awe, from afar. I’d always loved them, from the first moment I heard those Northern English yelps and boisterous guitars, but seeing them that day, or, more pertinently, seeing what they meant to other people, the reaction, the joy, the sense of importance that spread like wildfire, thrust them into a league of their own. That show came at the height of their second-album campaign, a few months after the release of the barnstorming Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart LP - the rousing, rambunctious follow-up to the equally-loved and equallytreasured debut record Courting Strong. What’s always made the County Durham quartet such an endearing prospect is the way that they balance that joy-and-importance of their music; able to be both lovable scamps while also, occasionally, holding their finger on the political pulse, championing the kind of causes that anyone reading this journal should hopefully give a fuck about. Nowhere is that energy, that contagious dynamism, on better display than in the band’s live shows, which have already taken on something of a legendary reputation; a restless and relentless outpouring of love and willful abandon, that has seen the group’s stock rise and rise and rise. “I think it makes us feel very validated,” says Naomi Stephens-Griffin, the band’s occasional mouthpiece, on that developing relationship between Martha and those that follow them. “It’s not just people coming to see us but also being incredibly lovely and welcoming over the years. We’ve developed relationships with people, then we see them again, and meet more new people. It all very much encourages us to keep going.” When we catch up with Naomi, it’s a grey Thursday in December of 2018. What could have been just another listless afternoon in the run-up to Christmas is elevated by the fact that it’s also the day that Martha shared a beatific new single ‘Heart Is Healing’. It’s the first release via their new home of Big Scary Monsters, who will handle the release alongside Dirtnap Records; as good a fit as could have been imagined. It’s also the first track to be heard from the band’s brand new album - their third full-length effort - though that detail hadn’t been shared with the world at that point. The new record is, in fact, called Love Keeps Kicking, and it finds the quartet in as ferocious form as ever, while also opening other new passageways, a kind of earnest, tender side that hasn’t been exposed to the same degree as they do here. By the time the new record comes out, it will have been nearly three years since the release of Blisters - a decent stretch of time for anyone, and perhaps longer than they would have liked. “We recorded it last January, but it was a good six months before that when we started. So not this Summer, 2018, but the Summer before. It’s been such a long time coming. We’re very eager for it to be out,” Naomi admits. That eagerness came to a head on that day in December, the day that the first material from it is shared
with the world, the first chance to gauge how their new music might resonate with fans, new and old. As wholesome as they’ve ever been, ‘Heart Is Healing’ is a reminder, if required, of just how special this band can be, featuring a totemic riff as memorable and infectious as any other in their chock-full discography. “It’s quite representative of the album, in terms of tone and also subject matter,” Naomi confirms, “so the way people react to this single might well give us an idea of how they might feel about the album. There’s definitely a range of styles on there,” she continues. “We all take the lead on different songs and have slightly different styles, but there is still an overall sound. It’s hard to tell when you’re so close to it though, so there is some apprehension. From what I can tell people have said some very nice things. So that’s good. There’s definitely some anticipation and anxiety there though.”
“THINGS BEING SO BLEAK MOTIVATES YOU TO TRY AND DO SOMETHING FUN AND CREATIVE” The fiery epitome of that aforementioned balance, the new record does feel like a further stride forward, showing small flickers of what’s come before but also the sound of a band developing, of branching out, of avoiding stasis. “I don’t think we wrote particularly strategically,” says Naomi. The songs came out as they came out, but as we started writing and talking together we realised there was a theme emerging. We kind of feel like, given that our past has been writing quite happy pop songs, and quite happy political pop songs, this album is fittingly a bit more sombre than the last two. That, accidentally, reflects the bleakness of the political and social situation that keeps getting w o r s e and w o r s e,” Naomi continues. “That bleakness is told through the stories in the songs. It’s not all about heartbreak, but that’s definitely a loose theme throughout: Heartbreak, falling in love, the tensions around that, the difficulties involved. You can be heartbroken by the end of a relationship, or just the impending doom that we sense constantly in the political climate at the moment. Also heartbreak not just in terms of romance, but also loss and grief.” The record’s powerful and emotive heart is embodied by ‘Love Keeps Kicking’, the magnificent title track that sits right at the album’s core, a juggernaut of a centrepiece that holds the whole thing together. “It’s a sad song but it has hope within it,” Naomi explains. “The point is that even if you’re at your lowest there’s always a glimmer of hope. As shit as things are there’s a chance they’ll be alright again eventually.”
As much as Martha themselves are calling this a bleak record, casual observers will be doing well to notice such a thing. For all of its “bleakness”, it still sounds, thrives, as a Martha record, as we know them, as we last found them. This isn’t an about-face into the dead of night. It still gleams. The chops are still big and heavy, the hooks are still bold and brilliant - and it keeps that glimmer of hope front and centre throughout. “Sometimes when you get to the end of a project the themes you’ve been talking about all the way through and been hinting at become so clear and apparent,” Naomi says, expanding upon her earlier point. “There are still a couple of straight-up happy love songs. It’s not all bleakness. We didn’t set out to write a sad heartbreak album, or a sad political commentary. We also didn’t set out to write an album that was full of hope. It just naturally happened.” As with most people trying to create s o m e t h i n g, in spite of the current social and political landscape, Martha have also struggled to keep their chin up, to keep their necks above the water, to find the positive aspects in this thing called entertainment. “I think there’s so many different contributing factors to creating art, and to writing songs,” Naomi says, when asked about how big of an impact the state of the world has on their ability to keep going. “In some ways, things being so bleak motivates you to try and do something fun and creative. On other days you question what the point is to any of it. It’s definitely getting harder,” she continues. “Practically speaking, we’re all having to work hard to make a similar amount of money as we used to. Rent keeps going up, but wages don’t. Art is being strained, and culture is being strained. I think we’re very lucky in that we have each other, to support one another. Being in a group motivates us to keep doing stuff. So I guess we’re quite privileged in that way.” That bond that holds together the four members of Martha has always been a key factor in their outlook and ‘Love Keeps Kicking’ is released April 5th, via Big Scary Monsters/Dirtnap Records.
progression (“If not related then very close otherwise!” Naomi describes it as). It’s been a major factor, not just in their endearing appeal but also in the very real battle to huddle together and keep going, to find new ways of making this work, for themselves and the people who support them. Society might well be fucked, but there’s still a necessity to work, to enjoy ourselves, to cherish creativity. And, through a tough couple of years, Martha now have a new album to show for their efforts. “We’re very proud of it. We like it a lot,” Naomi states plainly, but with obvious pride. “We hope people enjoy it and they get some joy out of it. With any luck, it might cheer some people up at a time when things are pretty sad. That would be very nice. We also hope people get something from the stories that we tell in there,” she continues. “There are some quite personal experiences woven in there, alongside the fictional narratives - which can be quite a scary thing. Sharing anything you’ve put your heart and soul into is difficult. Whether the topic is personal or not, the product is. We hope people get something from that.” In a world that seems to be constantly kicking back against those of us that desire inclusion above separation, openness rather than exclusivity, sometimes it takes a band like Martha to remind you that there is always some hope to be found. It might seem silly to find such things in a rock and roll band but we do the best with the hand we’re given. We all need a way out every once in a while. A break in the clouds and a gulp of clean of air. We find it as and where we can, and then we cherish it. Because what else is there to do?
gold flake paint
words by Tom Johnson
photography Saamuel Richard
A H e a r t P i e r c e d Jessica Prattâ€™s third album is a reflection of suffering created from a space of contentment - and it might well be her masterpiece.
gold flake paint
Musicophilia, Oliver Sack’s beautiful exploration of human’s relationship with recorded sound, investigates the reasons why so many of us are uniquely moved by particular pieces of music, why these odd little melodies, collections of notes and noises, can have such a profound effect on our lives. “Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional,” he says. “It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation.” Each of us will find different things to love within the same work. Even between the best of friends, the closest of allies, some will love what we hate, and hate what we love. There are no rules to what happens, no real way of explaining why we’re gripped. If I had to define the kind of music I cherish the most, however, I would probably find myself leaning towards Jessica Pratt. Blessed with one of those voices that can switch between poignant, pretty, and implacably eerie in one fluttering second, and able to channel this into and within melodies that tenderly pass by but l i n g e r long after. It’s both haunting and exquisite, as meaningful in the atmosphere it creates as much as the structural form it takes. Released at the start of 2019, Pratt’s third album, Quiet Signs, is a gentle but immediately striking progression, another entry into a discography that is quietly and contemplatively building towards genuine greatness. Her first foray into a real working studio, a break away from the four-track recording style that had left such a unique impression upon her work, it already feels likely that it will become one of the year’s most cherished long-players. Most importantly, it’s a record that welcomes back
a songwriter who spent some four years in the personal void between releases. “The gap between the first and second record didn’t feel like that long to me because so much happened in that period,” Jessica tells us, ahead of the albums release, commenting on the time she tends to take away between her work. “Every foundational aspect of my life changed in that first period. I moved, I got out of a really long relationship, I quit the job I’d had for six years. It was a huge shift. But I do think time is important for me,” she continues. “You can get a little tapped out. Some people regenerate quicker but I think I’m learning that I tend to take a little longer - especially with this new record.” Thankfully we’ve started moving away from the idealisation of the suffering artist, the dangerous notion that we can’t make anything true unless we give ourselves over to the darkness. Finding herself thrown into the unguarded and somewhat relentless touring cycle, it’s no surprise that Jessica needed this time to regather, especially as her personal life was also in a state of imbalance. “I basically toured for all of 2015 straight,” she reflects. “It was the first time I’d ever done that and I think I was experimenting with my own sanity and energy levels. It was a really rewarding experience, and it changed my life, but also when it was over I was completely exhausted to the point where I just didn’t really have anything left to give,” she continues. “I think I thought I’d recuperate for a couple of months and then get back to writing, because I’d been longing to write on the road for so long, but I was still in that same headspace, and also depressed because of living alone.” We’re often told that in those troublesome times, it’s either fight or flight, but in this posttour slump Jessica found the strength to do both,
summoning up the courage to move cities, to go in search of something else, to find a way of moving onwards and upwards. “Touring for that long had kind of degraded my willpower a little bit and I took longer recuperating than I thought I was going to,” she admits. “So I decided to move from LA to San Francisco at some point during that convalescence, and I spent some time figuring my life out. Then, in and around August of 2017, I met my now boyfriend and it sort of ignited something in me again. I felt really inspired, felt like I had more energy, and it brought me back to life a bit. That’s when I really started writing in earnest,” she says. “I think I was just really happy. And, consequently, it gave me the energy to write again while I was sorting through a lot of personal stuff that had transpired during those three years, since the last record. I think I needed that; to be in an optimistic state of mind while sifting through a lot of the darker stuff.” Oliver Sacks and Musicophilia, once again: “Perception is never purely in the present - it has to draw on experience of the past… We all have detailed memories of how things have previously looked and sounded, and these memories are recalled and admired with every new perception.” Leaning on the weight of what had been, but from a place of new-found contentment, the resulting album is arrestingly beautiful. Like the intense quiet after a storm, it’s wrapped up in the kind of atmosphere you can’t quite pinpoint, can’t quite understand; like sneaking a glimpse inside a life that isn’t your own, daring not to make a sound. Where her previous work was fleetingly recorded in various spaces, on a four-track recorder, the new record was her first venture into a polished, professional studio, and while
such information often harks to the idea of playing it safe, the result is anything but. Under spotlights, under close scrutiny, Pratt’s music glows supremely, coming alive and growing into something altogether more compelling than it’s ever been. “After the first session I knew that would be the place I recorded everything,” she recalls, speaking of the studio that became the record’s home. “Even with the last record there are slight sonic differences from song to song, based on where I recorded it, or what the conditions were, so going into a more controlled atmosphere changed that blueprint. I was working in a very concerted way, so I was able to view it as a project with a beginning and an end. Previously the way that I wrote and recorded was whenever it happened,” she continues. “I may have had the idea of an album in mind but it was still
gold flake paint
pretty decent that I could have thrown on but I just tried to weed out anything that I didn’t feel, ultimately, served the record. In the end I went with what felt right. I think I tend to favour brevity a bit more than whatever’s deemed to be the standard length!” Perhaps the record’s strongest characteristic is the space that’s been left; small expanses of silence when we’re so used to blanketed sound. “I think that every aspect of how I make music is pretty unconscious,” Jessica says, when asked about this. “Of course I’m going off the feel of it the whole time but, going into it, I didn’t anticipate an incredibly spacious record. I think that there’s an atmosphere of silence on the record that was also not anticipated - part of that is due to the clarity of the studio recordings. It was so deadly quiet there and really gave me a lot of freedom to play with that. I think silence is a very valuable quality in music. But I didn’t foresee it in the beginning.” mostly recording for myself and I didn’t know where those songs would end up. This time I knew I was writing for a specific record. More than ever I was weeding out songs that I thought detracted from a certain vibe. That was, largely, unconscious; an intuitive thing, but I was thinking about the end product more than I ever had, or maybe for the first time. That process, the weeding out of songs, has left a record that is slight and skeletal; just half an hour of music, but a space that feels absolutely inhabited, a tale unto itself. “I do think I’m very selective,” she admits. “I think that I aim to be succinct and I try to remove anything extraneous. There were definitely songs that I wrote and recorded that were
“ I think s i l e n c e is a very valuable quality in music.” “It’s funny because a lot of the songs are layered,” she continues, working through her own reflections on the record in real-time. “In fact I think there’s more instrumentation than the last record - but it does feel different. There are songs with lots of open space. When I think of the last record now, it does seem extremely frenetic; wound up and anxious. I was in a very hyper, frightened state of mind when I was making it and I think you can really hear it, like a frequency whirring at a really fast rate. Quiet Signs is a lot more earthy; a slow-wave.”
Certainly a marked step forwards, Quiet Signs also comes with an attached piece of writing, telling us that the record finds an “artist stepping out of the darkened wings, growing comfortable as a solitary figure on a sprawling stage”, something she’s happy to expand upon in finer detail. “I think it’s an accurate statement if I go back to the intention behind the record, and how it was me making a concerted effort to do one thing; to make a statement. This is what I have to say and here it is. The way I’ve approached my career, for better or worse, has always been very non-statement orientated. If someone’s interested in my music then it’s always a surprise to me - I’ve always made things for myself, and it’s been very hands-off to me. But now I’ve begun to accept that this is actually my profession,” she continues. “I’ve found that my approach has changed a little bit in how much I consider an audience, which can be both good and bad. But by considering them I feel more validated and legitimate. There is a performance aspect to Quiet Signs; of being aware of the space it needs to fill.” With all of these new outlooks and processes, Jessica admits that there were some surprises along the way, things that blossomed unexpectedly, as new horizons so often seem to manufacture. “Aeroplane, the last song on the record, has these two completely different organ parts, one played by me and one by the engineer Al, who plays a lot on the record. They’re spliced together, back and forth, almost like a patchwork quilt. On paper it doesn’t really make any sense at all but it just happened to work out. Also there’s a sort of coda at the end of that song that was improvised in the studio. I really wasn’t sure it was going to work, because it’s also on electric guitar, which I’d never really tried to record before. All of a sudden all of these
Quiet Signs is released on February 8th, via Mexican Summer and City Slang
unforeseen elements popped up and turned it into something I could never have predicted.” “There is a performance aspect to Quiet Signs; of being aware of the space it needs to fill.” Taken as a stand alone sentiment, that last sentence could well be talking about life as a whole, not just the time that Pratt spent in a studio. Try as we might to find balance, some semblance of inner peace, there will always be unimagined events that leap out of the void, sending the world into a spin just as we felt settled. The best we can do is try to ride it out, to keep just enough of ourselves above water until we find our way to dry land once more. Quiet Signs, above all else, above all the beauty of its construction and personality, is a testament to such a thing; the idea that great worth can be found in dark places, not as some romanticised version of reality but as a considered declaration that we can always find a way to carry on. The things we love, the things we’re inspired by, also have a way of finding their way back to us, often when we least expect it, when we believe that the well has finally run dry. “The power of music,” Sacks tells us, finally, “whether joyous or cathartic, must steal on one unawares, come spontaneously as a blessing or a grace.” And so it has here; a quiet sign in a world full of noise.
Still Too Alive Little Wonder is a microfiction gem. Itâ€™s also the first literary release on the brilliant Father/Daughter Records. Here, the books author, Kat Gardiner, talks us through her beautiful, daring, melancholic masterpiece.
words by Sammy Maine
photography Chloe Sells
gold flake paint
hen Kat Gardiner was 24, she eloped to Vegas with her boyfriend to get married by Elvis, rented out an old cafe in the back of a record store in Anacortes, Washington, and opened up a coffeehouse-come-music-venue. It was a simple plan, a sanctuary for the outcasts and the restless, where Kat could rustle up her whoopie pies and serve fresh coffee. They’d invite their friends to play on the tiny stage and welcome fans to sway on their sticky floors and swig beer from gargoyle-illustrated bottles. It was a wild, spontaneous, beautifully-optimistic idea that most would only dream of - but then Kat has always acted upon what she felt was the right decision. This strange small town in the Pacific Northwest was always wet, always wary of the ambitions of two “goddamn hippie tree hugging punks” (a description coined by their suspicious next door neighbour.) The cafe stood slap-bang in the middle of a Walgreens parking lot, behind a thick fence, surrounded by a sea of corporate, plastic bullies. The neon signs and twofor-one-deals of Taco Bell, KFC and Starbucks taunted the small scale, DIY ethos of the cafe. They were the Regina George’s of retail and Kat, the Cady Heron, hoping a bus would trample over the busy stores that didn’t give a shit about a single person shopping there. The cafe was open for exactly one year.The sugarfree white chocolate powder didn’t save them from their Pumpkin Spice Latte rivals; the carefully-constructed radicchio salad bowls didn’t stop the impending weight of the recession; the songs of Ladyhawk, Mt Eerie, and Neko Case couldn’t keep the stage afloat. There was no furore, no emotional goodbye or funeral for a lost dream. Kat and her husband simply locked the door and walked away. Little Wonder is a book about failure, or more importantly, not being afraid of failure. It’s the scariest thing in the world to be unwanted. To be the person left alone on the floor of the kitchen in a cafe no one seems to care about. To peel yourself off the sofa and try again. Kat wanted to encapsulate all of the frustrating, beautiful melancholy of the experience in a way that allowed her to process it and maybe more importantly, give it the goodbye it truly deserved. “It’s always been this thing that I knew I wanted to write about but it was either too close or it never had the right moment until I started doing it in this micro-fiction, fragmentary process,” Kat tells me over the phone. “I needed to be away from it far enough to really be able to look back and process it and be able to turn it into fiction.” It took a while for Kat to settle on the essaystyled micro-fiction approach. A year or two after the cafe closed, she tried to turn it into a graphic novel. Later, she tried to morph it into a script. Elsewhere she was working on a different novel, a rough draft already reaching over 1,000 pages. Her creativity was infinite but nothing felt right. It wasn’t until the birth of her little girl, Smokey, that Kat kickstarted the process of fragmentary remembrance. “I was in this place where my kid was an infant, she had some complications right after being born and I had to basically nurse a lot. I was very
isolated and I was feeling very disconnected from my artistic side and writing,” she explains. ”I decided to give myself a challenge of just writing a short story a day and posting it on Instagram and Facebook and it was really cathartic.” That process allowed Jessi Frick of Father/Daughter Records to discover Kat’s work. Soon after, Little Wonder became the first literary release on the record label.
“I needed to be away from it far enough to really be able to look back and process it.” The book opens with an essay titled Sunlight and Shadows. It hints at the golden air of optimism before Kat sweeps the rug from our feet and reminds us that life can be miserable. Hell, it can be really, really shitty. Somehow though, through her slow contemplation, Little Wonder transcends regret. Her vulnerability, her bald confessions and the straight-up hilarious observations of her customers and co-workers offer a collection of half-memories, where the faces are fuzzy but the ache of them still feels tender. We watch the cafe crumble in real-time. We smell the weird goo behind the fridge. We roll our eyes at the guy trying to trade a coffee for an agate. We hold our breath when the landlord hasn’t received rent in two months. What’s most rewarding about Kat’s work though, is her ability to capture the spirit of trying to do something with your whole heart.To do something you truly believe in, something good, only to watch it fall from your fingers, one piece at a time. Through this disorienting, non-linear narrative, our reading experience becomes a reflection of the disorienting attempt to keep something alive: The bittersweet moment when the whole world acknowledges death, but we are all still too alive to really know what it means, she writes in the essay, ‘Thoughts of Dying Behind the Hanging Moss’. “It was such an intense experience, moving away from everyone that we knew and going into the country from living in the city. Then after a year of working 80 hour weeks, to have it just be done,” Kat adds. “It was kind of a microcosm life that went and then ended so abruptly. It was a really impactful and growing-up experience. I still believe that it taught me how to work.”
Kat describes the process of writing Little Wonder as “hard but also really healing.” The fragments immortalised in the book were once only snippets she or her husband knew about. The people she once worked with have now fallen out of their lives. The customers who once made jokes about how the soup was made have moved on. “It was almost like a bone that had broken and not set right, so going in there and really resetting the bone by telling my side of the story in a fictionalised way allowed me to get closer to the truth,” she says. “You can combine the symbols of people into a more concentrated form. I think that it helps to get to the truth of failure and of the hardship of putting yourself out there and getting rejected. It was hard but it was also a really freeing process to get it all in the public and outside of my own brain.”
more control and more and more power in your life, but your life is actually these little concentrated bubbles of safety of being a child. So when you’re first released into the world of being an adult, you’re down at the ground floor again and it’s really hard when the entire world is blasting this idea that to make it, you have to make it by the time you’re 30. When you fail, right out the gate, which most people do, it’s tough.” The experience of the cafe has allowed Kat to gain perspective on her writing career, too. Now living in Detroit, Michigan, she codes HTML to pay the bills. Her husband is now at the head of a successful music PR company. Their daughter Smokey is obsessed with listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Heads Will Roll”. Failure is something that has enabled her to focus on getting better, in her own time, while still enjoying the
Each essay weaves through loss with the kind of wit that can only come from going through something truly crappy. Kat’s sadness is delivered with a quiet softness. Her anger never boils over to rage. Little Wonder is the friend who promises that one day, we’ll look back on all of this and laugh. “I definitely don’t have any regrets about the endeavour. Not at all,” she says. “I think that if we hedge all of our bets in life and take the odds into consideration all the time then we don’t really do anything or stand for anything, especially in a world that’s changing in such a scary and unpredictable way.
life she’s made for herself. “I’m really glad that I tried and failed,” she continues. “I feel like we give ourselves these ridiculous expectations because the world has given us, especially as women, ridiculous expectations of ‘you have to have made it before some time’ and it’s utter bullshit. You just get better, you just get deeper. I look at the writing that I wrote in my twenties and I’ve definitely gotten better because I’ve kept on doing it. I think a lot of the time, success is in the eye of the beholder. I feel like a failure quite often but you just have to keep on trying.” That isn’t to say that she hasn’t felt like throwing in the towel a couple of times. “There’ve been so many times when I’ve wanted to give up and thought that maybe it would just be a better idea to put writing on the infinite back burner, but the thing that I keep on coming back to is that I’ve spent my entire life trying to do this thing. If I don’t continue trying to do this thing, all that time was not wasted but it felt like giving up and if something feels like giving up, I don’t feel like it’s something you should give up on.” However, Kat realises that embarking on a number of passion projects isn’t a reality for a lot of people. She was a photographer for a long time. She studied photography. She shot film and collected weird and wonderful cameras from across the world – naming a Russian 4x5 model as a particular favourite. But once she turned 30, she understood more than ever that, as a functioning adult who needs to make money,
If people don’t try to change things, if they don’t stand up for what they want the world to be like, it’s just going to run over them and become what other people want it to be. I think it’s really important for each of us every day to, by the way we live our lives and by the choices we make, stand for something.” Kat’s inspiring outlook on life is something that ricochets throughout Little Wonder, and while it’s not an outlook that’s easy to comprehend in the kind of world we live in today, it’s the way in which Kat is so relatable in her endeavours, that makes us want to believe the glass might actually be half full, after all. “I think that without it failing, my life would have been much less rich. Failure is such a biting blow, especially in your early twenties. You’re a child and then you’re an adolescent and then you’re an adult all of a sudden and you’ve spent this upward ark of having more and illustration Jessica Lynch
you can only have so many places where you can put your passion. “When you’re young all the doors can open and you can do multiple things but as you get older you really have to pick and choose where you can focus your energy,” she says. “So I let my photography seriousness dwindle considerably and I sold a lot of cameras. I have my totems that I’ve kept from my past life but I no longer consider myself a photographer and I’m okay with that. When I let that go, it didn’t feel like failing or like giving up. If I had let writing go at the time that I definitely considered letting writing go, just the idea of it it put in such a deep depression and identity crisis that I knew I couldn’t.”
stable family situation. Dealing with death, dealing with sexuality, dealing with friendship and loss and dreams.” She’ll then be going back to her ten-yearsin-the-making novel. It’s a magical realism story, also based in the Northwest but this time, it involves ghosts. “The protagonist is a teenage girl who is also dealing with a lot of teenage stuff. It’s more a traditional novel. It has mystery and suspense in there and a lot of dealing with parental issues and Japanese folklore,” Kat adds. “It’s a complicated beast but I’m hopeful that I can get a draft done and can hopefully get it published in a more traditional way.” It’s this message
“When you’re young you can do multiple things but as you get older you really have to choose where you can focus your energy.” * * * The release of Little Wonder set Kat out on a speaking tour. She got a segment on a radio station. She proudly shared pictures of her name adorned across a bookstore entrance in Portland, Oregon. Most would think Kat is living the dream and to her, she is, but she’s also keen to stress she doesn’t make money from writing. “I don’t know if I ever will but I feel happier than I’ve ever felt in my life in making the decision I made to do that,” she says. “I’ve spent my entire life pursuing this placement of words on a page that I think I don’t know how to do anything as well anymore. Even if I never succeed in the large level on it, I’m okay with that. We might come back, we might have multiple lives but we don’t know for sure and I’d like to spend my life pursuing something that makes me feel fulfilment in a big picture way. In a way that making money doesn’t do for me.” Looking to the year ahead, Kat’s already working on two projects. One follows a group of feral teenagers in a small island in the Pacific Northwest. “It’s based on the actual island I grew up on but it’s much more fictionalised than the cafe story,” Kat explains. “It’s about a group of friends all trying to figure out how to grow up and none of them coming from a very Little Wonder is out now, via Father/Daughter Records
to keep going to keep writing, to stay positive in the face of pessimism that makes Kat Gardiner the kind of author we all need right now. Personally, my copy of Little Wonder has become tethered to my every day. I re-read it on the bus, in the bath, on the sofa while I wait for my tea to cool down. Its cover is torn and there are smears of chocolate on a few pages. It’s something I turn to when I need a little reassurance. “I want to remind the reader that at the heart of all of these details really was an optimistic dream,” Kat says of deciding to end Little Wonder with the beginning of the cafe’s story. “Sometimes it’s really important to open Pandora’s Box and I think that I just wanted to end on the beginning because that’s where I wanted the reader to leave it. It was an intuitive thing more than a rational thing. Ultimately I wanted the reader to end on a sense that despite all of these failures, it wasn’t a failure. It was almost a grand experiment. It was an art installation of a success and answering the question of ‘would it work?’”
gold flake paint
the music reclamation project
The Music Reclamation Project William Caston Cook on the complex relationship between grief and music; on our attempts to untangle it and find peace. Among discarded memory sticks, flyers from ancient club nights, countless biro’s long since dried out of thoughts now forgotten and the scraps of paper they still cling to, I saw it. An old iPod, matt black except for the shiny tracking wheel, a tiny patch of luminous orange showing it abandoned, left on hold for eternity. A relic now, phased into drawers and online marketplaces, to be filed under I wonder where the charger is for that. The device followed the trajectory of music it held within, once central to the act, now little more than a forgotten soundtrack. The charging lead was hidden in a bag of cables that I’m too scared to throw away. Just finding a use for one of them validates the existence of the others through at least two more internal debates. It eventually turned on, labelled Rectangle, a Parks and Recreation reference which dates it. A home to just over 22 days of music played end to end. A number you can trust to never find out, like how your veins would stretch around the world twice if you laid them all down. Running my thumb around the wheel is a simple gesture overwhelming in its familiarity. Lost hours of daydreams are fired up. Recollections of train station platforms, university libraries, work vans, airports, bedrooms, words by William Caston Cook
a variety of sofas. Always waiting for something or someone, indulging, searching, looking for more. The past is unlocked before any sound is even generated. The serendipity of shuffle seemed like the only option. The intro to an old rap song crept in, immediately I thought of him. It was the best song on the album. Except it wasn’t, after listening to me enthuse he told me quietly but firmly that the best song came later in the album. I protested, always, regardless of how right I knew he was. Our relationship was underpinned by that, the arrogance of my loud proclamations, his quiet righteousness. That part of me died with him. It had to die, but I wish he hadn’t, so he could see the person I thought I could be. Like the iPod, many of the songs it held had been relegated to a drawer along with everything else I’m too romantic to throw away, but can’t bear to have on display. Music can be too evocative to experience. Through the tears and epiphanies, hearing that song, a song I thought I had forgotten, unwittingly triggered the process of healing. The realisation that these songs had fallen into the space I’ve spent years struggling to fill, became the start of a reclamation project of sorts, a longing for what I once thought lost. seaweed pressings by Christina Riley / christinariley.co.uk
I got sick when I was a kid. Bedbound, after three weeks still, feverish, sweating, all closed curtains and lucid dreams. My sister gave me a Pearl Jam tape to listen to. I had a cheap boom box which said mega bass in white writing on the side, but had nothing like it. It had three graphic equaliser sliders that offered nothing but the illusion of control. It would automatically switch sides when you listened to tapes. So if you are lost in your duvet the music never stops. Hit play, slump, dream, try to pretend to sleep hoping that you will, the music never, ever, stops. The sound of Eddie Vedder’s voice still makes me feel ill, my stomach wrenches into knots, a claustrophobic pressure builds on my temples. It only lasted a few months but the strength of connection between the voice of endless vowel sounds and that time is overwhelming.
william caston cook
ones we draw upon for our everyday life. What we think of the past is in many cases just a creative construction, prone to change with fresh hindsight. Which is why it’s often not the big break up songs, the solace songs, songs from the end, that are really painful to listen to. We have manipulated them over time with hindsight, stretched them into new shapes, they serve as a reminder - to the act of loss, not what you have lost. The painful ones are the songs we left behind with them, marked as theirs, forgotten in the noise of emotional wretchedness. Not tied to great, or worst, but from the middle of the relationship. Tied to everyday acts. Tied to deeper implicit memories, like moments of trying to stifle your own insecurities, playing it like you were good enough, when you knew all along that
A significant proportion of the pain is remembering what you’ve forgotten. The guilt of surviving. The guilt of living well creates a new hole for songs to fall into. It’s said that memories grow through your brain like the branches of a tree. Every branch is shaped by a thousand gusts of new experience, moved by each thought, left in new positions by hindsight. You, the very essence of you, lay where the roots are planted. You are where the branches grow from. We have explicit and implicit memories. Explicit memory requires conscious thought; like remembering what you ate yesterday, it’s our explicit recollection of things that give the impression of a good memory. Whereas implicit memory flows effortlessly, like how you never forget how to ride a bike, it’s less tangible but much more powerful, drawing from many parts of the brain. Music by its very nature unlocks both. It acts as a trigger, a mirror, a shoulder, a pillow. It connects us to the past, to places, feelings, friends, lovers long forgotten. Yet in the present, it exists only as a supplement, serving our experience, overtaking one of our senses whilst heightening the others. When entwined with shared experience it lurks in the depths of our consciousness, like a ghost, waiting to provoke. We are all haunted, our ghosts of deep memory are waiting for a reason to surface, ghosts we’ve tied to happy times and ghosts we’ve tied to bad. Our ghosts dredge through the remnants of times we long to forget. Ghosts invoke the pain of loss, of grief, of screaming into the dark regardless. Ghosts both good and bad seemingly get lost forever in the forest of our own brain. Our consciousness is formed of two parts; our perception of things, and the concepts defined by our long-term memories which colour that perception - the branches along which our thoughts travel. Explicit short-term memories are held briefly before decaying, like leaves trodden into dirt, unless they are repeated or considered formative enough to be rehearsed internally until they cause the modification of our established implicit memories. Our experience colours our perception, which colours our experience. The paths we travel most are the
you were waiting to find out you weren’t. The brain’s ability for movement, to redefine what you classed as true, allows for our recovery but that isn’t always necessarily positive. As Proust wrote, “Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them”. Hindsight alters our perception of a moment in stasis, doing a disservice to those we remember, by not allowing their transformation. When he died I didn’t want to listen to music, I didn’t want to associate anything with it, I wanted the grief to stand alone and then I wanted it to end. We all gathered together as the news broke to share whatever was happening, together, but there was no music, no soundtrack to our misery. We played video games and watched sports. Our solemn faces said all that we couldn’t while other people spoke. We took our turns to try and part the clouds, we all failed. At night I lay dormant, head spinning in the silence, with nothing to derail those desperate trains of thought before they crashed. Eventually, I chose an album to give to the grief. Music so inoffensive it never snaps you out of where you are, so as such, I never really snapped out of it. I had a grey plastic clock radio by the bed with a temperamental CD player. You had to push the top to get it to open. Sometimes you had to shake it to make it work, towards the end I had to stack books on top of it to make it play, it always made a weird squeaky noise as it started to spin the CD. The album ran back to back on it nightly for three or four weeks, becoming a physical focal point for my frustration, steering my mind away from its new preoccupation towards sleep. When somebody suddenly kills themselves it launches the kind of internal investigation in those close by that’s hard to come back from whole.
william caston cook
Pain isn’t something that you can fix. Trauma and its subsequent grief overwhelms. They say when someone dies, they place a huge black spot in your vision. It’s impossible to see anything else, no matter where you look. Time doesn’t heal it, or make it smaller, you just spend longer and longer focussing on the areas around it. You just forget to look back. At that point, a significant proportion of the pain is remembering what you’ve forgotten. The guilt of surviving. The guilt of living well creates a new hole for songs to fall into. The DNA of a song, the structure, the architecture, works in the same way as memory. Establishing recognition through repetition. The cue we need to unlock deep memories. The path we’ve walked before opens the mind to pathways we haven’t walked for lifetimes. We get lost in a myriad of tiny concerns, just navigating our days, it takes the transition from chorus to a bridge, the nuance of what happens next once buried in brains, to bring it back to the surface. The trigger is not the music itself, but the implicit associated knowledge of what comes next, travelling those neural paths once more, moving the branches, sparking all of the funny weird asides tied to it. I tried to give my grief an album, to future proof myself, but it didn’t work. Like the break-up songs, they are not painful because they are not tied to him, they are tied to the wholesale destruction of self that followed. Some chords resurface the smell of the fresh sheets my face pressed into when tears finally came, the alien fabric conditioner probably bought once because of some supermarket deal, has now intrinsically linked it’s scent to my collapse. Not the actual natural visceral feeling, but how I indulged that feeling afterwards. As a group we listened to a lot of hip-hop. A lot of guns, bitches, testosterone and bullshit. He and I bonded over conscious rappers, backpackers, the weird shit. Music seemed to be more than just a preference, it was a sign, a secret handshake, that beneath the brash exterior there was a good heart that we shared. Until I found the iPod all these unsaid agreements had been left there with him. We redact so many scenes in order to function day to day. Those formative, difficult, upsetting and ugly scenes would overwhelm our view of the past if we gave them a chance. They lay dormant, buried deep amongst your roots, waiting to be found by familiar sound. Raised to the surface by an impending chorus, a world long forgotten; trying to choose a song for his funeral with the girl he left behind. We cycled through artists like we were taking them on a final lap of honour, rejecting each one in turn for one reason or another. Trying to explain that it’s a De La Soul reference so it’s ok, losing the argument, settling for something, swallowing the words, eating pride, leaving it there. The beginning of the new beginning, the gestation started there, even if I added the significance later. I often think about the last hug he gave me. How he knew it was goodbye. Outside a shitty bar, the end of another drunken night where I’d been a loud prick
for no outwardly obvious reason, except that we are all silently and constantly processing everything that ever happened to us. I wish he could hear the revelations I share with his memory, projecting my now onto an idealised version of him at his graveside. He held on too long and clung too tight, only hindsight can tell you that. Memories are unlocked each time you think of them, they are changed by what you know now, the ever-changing truth becomes the heart of us. Buried somewhere in our essence is the knowledge that unlocking these memories will open them to change. That our moments of stasis, the only thing that we have left to cling to, will be closer to being lost forever for having thought them.
References: Indefinition by Cenospecies Vitalogy by Pearl Jam From the ground up by Shady Bard Think before you speak by Good Shoes All my friends died in a plane crash by
William Caston Cook is an editor and writer with a particular interest in the intersection between music, technology and our human condition. He lives in the countryside and has a dog called Idgie.
Cocoon Audition by P.O.S TSOL by Shad A healthy distrust by Sage Francis Live from Rome by Sole A new white by Subtle
But in thinking about, in processing, in trying to come to terms with grief or painful memories we are simply recognising our journey to now. Like the creative curse; you learn as you create something new, so the act of creation renders everything you create a failure, as you have grown with the lesson of making it. The point isn’t the created thing, it’s the journey to its creation. With songs, the point isn’t that you can’t listen to them, it’s that you made them mean something in the first place. With time, distance and the truth of now, by recognising the journey itself as a process, letting that process become the thing in and of itself. Accepting that you cannot fix the pain. Understanding that the horrendous ache is an equal force to the love you shared. Seeing that and dwelling on it, indulging it, seeing that every part is valid. Accepting it. Letting it happen. This is how we survive. It’s not that songs and memories won’t be painful, it’s that the pain of regret is infinitely worse than the pain of loss. Look at the places, the people, the experience, and understand that you are the sum result of all of it. You are standing on the shoulders of everything that you have ever loved. Snatch the present from the past. Live.
A short round-up of some of the records that have already caused a stir in these early weeks of the year. From Pedro The Lionâ€™s long-awaited return, to the best self-released record youâ€™re likely to hear all year...
In Issue One of A Music Journal we celebrated Video Age’s Pop Therapy LP, a gem of a synth-pop release on the ever-reliable Citrus City Records. Fast forward just a few winter months and the label have done it again, this time unleashing the tender and decadent Heater LP into the world, an equally loveable blend of electronic keys and alluring atmosphere. The debut full-length release from the Atlanta quartet True Blossom, the ten-song collection has a gentle sway, so perfectly balanced it feels as though one swift breeze could topple the whole thing. As with all the best electropop records, there’s another side to the recording that slowly reveals itself with repeated plays, namely a somewhat hidden taste of melancholy, as if all that dancing - eyes closed, golden speckled light - is being done to forget something left behind, forget about words left unsaid. An immediate gem of the genre, Heater should be used literally: a subtle reminder of warm summer days in the deep throws of winter.
Citrus City Records
The second album from Marina Tadic’s Eerie Wanda project is wonderfully spacious. Beginning with a finger-click strut that’s so bright and elegant it could well be the best Broadcast track you’ve never heard, Pet Town is immediately affable, the sparse but colourful instrumentation sitting playfully hand-in-hand with Tadic’s always gregarious voice. This isn’t a record of close community however, in fact it’s the opposite. Choosing to record their individual parts in homely isolation, Tadic, alongside band mates Jasper Verhulst and Jeroen de Heuvel, could well have offered something dark and insulated. While it might be informed by such sentiments, Pet Town is delightfully airy; a set of songs that have drifted in on a breeze from some strange and foreign landscape you won’t find on any map.
Far more than just Sufjan’s friend and collaborator, Angelo De Augustine has always had a magical musical grace of his own, making our endof-year list with 2017’s stunning Swim Inside The Moon LP. Where that record felt suitably submerged, Tomb feels immediately brighter and more spacious. The title-track, which opens the record, quietly spins into life like spring flowers, like the first rays of the morning. Following track ‘All To The Wind’ could well be an outtake from Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 LP, the playful piano counter-balanced by the emotive lilt of that voice and the shapes it’s able to conjure. Written in the wake of his own first heartbreak, in the winter of 2017, Tomb could well have taken Augustine’s work to new darker depths, but, instead, it feels exquisitely full of life. “Throughout our lives, we bury many dead things in our hearts and minds,” he says of the new record. “There they go to rest and hopefully are reborn as something beautiful”.
Asthmatic Kitty Records
E E R I E WA N DA
ANGELO DE AUGUSTINE
2017’s Rare Feeling LP, released via Texan label Keeled Scales, shone a light on the kind of songwriter the world sometimes seems to have left behind. Dust layered and sun-faded, the music of Mt Davidson is tender and measured, not always slow but forever rich, absorbing, full to the brim of a life truly lived and felt, then left behind in some dimly lit bar. A year or so on from that release, with its fiery energy still teeming, Keeled Scales now releases 2 EPs - a companion piece to the aforementioned record. The flip-side features stripped-back solo recordings of tracks from Rare Feeling, all raw and rugged and unrefined, but it’s Side A that leaves the biggest impression, featuring four brand new tracks from the RF sessions, the highlight of which is the ‘Big Dog Mind’, a Phosphorescent-esque fiveminutes of aching balladry that slows the world down to a crawl.
T WA I N
Natasha Jacobs delivers each word of her music like she’s casting a spell, sometimes feeling glee in such a thing, sometimes smothered with regret at doing so, but always imbued with sorcery. Which is to say that Thelma makes music that is decidedly magic, removed from the real world, somewhat, utterly hypnotic and transfixing at the same time. Latest record The Only Thing took some doing, Jacobs battling and overcoming severe health issues which also resulted in her losing the album’s funding that was previously in place. Finding a way to record, produce, and release the album on her own terms is in itself worthy of championing - that The Only Thing manages to offer such a wild ride is, however, far more pertinent. From the skittish opener ‘Stranger Love’, to the cryptic hallucination of ‘No Dancing Allowed’, this is a record that manages to bend a stunning voice into bold and brilliant shapes very rarely seen. A unique record that, in its most special moments, will simply take your breath away. Close your eyes and leap into its world.
The Only Thing
J U L I A JAC K L I N Crushing Transgressive Records “In all the songs, you can hear every sound from every instrument; you can hear my throat and hear me breathing,” Julia Jacklin says of her new record. “It was really important to me that you can hear everything for the whole record, without any studio tricks getting in the way.” Keeping with that ethos, the follow-up to Don’t Let The KidsWin feels immediately more intimate and personal: in its shape and form, in the music that (often quietly) creeps out from its core. The tone was - and is - set by the opening track, and lead single, ‘Body’, a tender and tense unravelling that chronicles the end of a relationship, and then builds into something wider but more agitated: “Do you still have that photograph? Would you use it to hurt me?Well, I guess it’s just my life. And it’s just my body.” From that gripping start, the album slowly unravels, seemingly growing in stature with each track, mirroring the sense of confidence she’s found since the release of her debut and something she herself speaks of in the record’s introduction. From the sparse beauty of ‘Convention’, just her bewitching voice and gently-picked guitar, to the six-minute swell of ‘Turn Me Down’, Crushing is a wholly impressive next-step; concise, meaningful, and gripping in equal measure.
PEDRO THE LION Phoenix Polyvinyl/Big Scary Monsters
The first album in many a year from Pedro The Lion begins with a minute or so of strange sounds, stretched keys that make you wait just that little bit longer for the whole journey to start. And then comes the guitar, and then comes that voice, grizzly and grazed: “On a desert Christmas morning, 1981, one month shy of six months old, in the valley of the sun.” And off we go… Though frontman and architect David Bazan has spent the past decade crafting a string of truly absorbing solo records, Phoenix is the first album in fifteen years from the band that made his name. Perhaps it’s because he never really went away, perhaps it’s because this return has revitalised him, but Phoenix is a gorgeous, wholly invigorating burst of rock and roll - no matter what umbrella he chose to deliver it under. As expected, the record veers between punchy raggedness (‘Clean Up’, ‘My Phoenix’) and something altogether more melodic, but finds its true heart somewhere in the gut-punching middle ground. ‘Model Homes’ is certainly indicative of this, and a nostalgic stand-out moment, but it’s perhaps the six-minute closing track ‘Leaving The Valley’ that acts as the proverbial peak: a stormy, subdued moment of familial reflection and a monumental swan song to a record that immediately feels like a masterpiece; worthy of what came before, and so much more.
P I C K L E DA R L I N G Bigness Z-Tapes In our review of their previous release, 2017’s spring onion pancakes EP, we described Lukas Mayo’s songs as “comforting little impulses” and that sweet little phrase rises to the surface once more on his lovingly crafted new album Bigness. This is no re-hash, however. There’s new-found confidence in these songs, the sense of creativity, the solidity of the songwriting itself, growing in stature as the whole thing rolls on, blossoming in the warmth of the sun. For a ‘bedroom pop’ album, Bigness feels almost intriguingly clean, the ramshackle nature of that genre spruced up (reinvented?) and allowing the inspired little flashes of magic to truly shine. Perhaps the best example of this is ‘Rinse Spin Cycle / Nicolas Cage’, a six-minute splash of keyboard-colour, skewed drum-beats, and wilted vocals which seems to bury itself under your skin as it rolls on and on and on. There’s plenty of introspection here too, of course, the highlight of which is the album’s centre-piece, a three-minute gem of a sad-pop song, and a collaboration with Alex Montenegro (of the equally-lovable Skirts) who suddenly appears to fold the song in on itself: unexpected, inspired, and slightly out of step with the wider world. Much like this wonderful little album it finds itself held within.
This Is How You Smile
The sixth album from Roberto Carlos Lange, better known to you and I as Helado Negro, is a glorious page-turner. By which we mean it echoes those magical and mysterious novels where you can’t wait to discover what the next chapter holds in store, while subsequently wanting to savour every second of where you’re at in that very moment. Described as a “personal and universal exploration of aura”, it does indeed have a sense of something bigger than itself, emanating from each and every beautifully considered moment. The sparse opener, ‘Please Won’t Please’ immediately sets the tone, softly awakening like those tender summer mornings where the world feels fascinating and oh so peculiar, no matter how many times we’ve been here before. Musically, the record blends soft acoustic strums with colourful, scintillating decorations, but this is a record that doesn’t thrive in the particulars, but rather is all the more rewarding the less you try and pull it apart. A bold and beautiful journey from start to finish, This Is How You Smile is a reminder to do just that - and it gives you little choice either way.
Upon their arrival earlier this year, Oslo’s Spielbergs were immediately pitched as Norway’s answer to Japandroids, their swagger ing , swashbuckling take on indie-rock, breathless and bountiful, certainly similar in style to the much-feted Canadian duo.The centrepiece of their debut EP hinted at other territories, however, with ‘Ghost Boy’ offering a darkly melodic, swelling eight-minutes of Cloud Nothings-esque power, and they carry this sense of exploration on throughout their magnificent debut album. Although the band are brilliantly setup to deliver a smash-andgrab three-minute pop song, they’re also always looking for new ways to dive in deep, and it’s in the moments when they fully expand their horizons (‘Familiar’, ‘Forevermore’) that they graduate from the magnificent to the utterly essential.
By The Time It Gets Dark
This Is Not The End
gold flake paint
lewis cook & suzi rodden
Quality Utopias: An Interview with Free Love
As I write, we’re just two days away from the winter solstice. The days eke themselves out through little windows of blue and grey against the prevailing dark. It’s a time of year that invites friction, like worlds colliding and atmospheres shifting. You want a sort of splash to expose the rainbows bleeding behind cloud, oil on water, a happening. Music as portal. No better time, then, to turn to Glasgow’s Free Love (fka Happy Meals), a synthpop duo whose chemistry — both live and on record — is nothing less than total sonic enchantment. To call Lewis Cook and Suzi Rodden’s music ‘synthpop’ is of course to leave out the auroras of myriad influence that resonate throughout the band’s catalogue: Italo-disco, house, rave, New Age, ambient, lo-fi and psychedelia. But something of that term captures the immediate ecstasy Free Love’s music conjures: a serotonin pleasure zone that spreads itself generously through lush production, hypnagogic loops and quirky lyrics. You listen to Free Love and the weather almost suspends itself, a blur between outside and in, like the music itself is a weathering: a sensory conduit which makes us aware of our worldly existence as embodied beings. The vibrant physicality of Free Love’s sound is something to behold in all settings of listening. Whether you witness the incredible veer effect of Suzi Rodden flexing through the audience, inviting us into the space of performance, or whether you listen privately, trying to plug yourself into a state of awakening, you can’t help feeling something loosen in the air around you. Those crystalline synths are literally altering atoms, summoning Balearic horizons. Free Love’s new EP Luxury Hits, released as hand-stamped vinyl on their label Full Ashram, is an eight-track journey which moves in oscillations, loops and acid-laced promises of multiple tomorrows. It feels totally immanent. We’re asked to pay attention to what’s happening within and between, the permeable energy that connects us. The single ‘Synchronicity’ might well refer to Carl Jung’s idea of certain events as ‘meaningful coincidences’, occurring without causal relationship yet nevertheless significantly related. The utopic space of performance is one of many in which the collision of bodies, events, senses and ritual trajectories might determine possible futures. With dreamy, UV charm, Free Love recreate this openness over and over, demand something brighter and better of the present. As an EP, Luxury Hits feels like a completed work, an alchemic manifesto, as much as a series of imminent transitions, vibrations, cosmic openings, kinetic potentials. Slipping between English and French, pop and disco, intensity and interlude, it might be the starter pack we need to make something genuinely beautiful from the impositions of late-capitalist retrofutures. If avant-garde literally means something ahead of its time, then the avant-gardism of Free Love is all about asking what multiple utopias are possible, what futures we want, what futures are already here, flourishing or perishing in the moment. Just as Suzi, trailing a mic cable, makes her own stages around the dance floor, we’re asked to leap out of familiar restrictions — find new platforms. The pleasure in that is maybe about taking the lost dreams of yesterday and making them over: layering a dulcet sheen, cyclical groove, transmuting sixties idealism or the plastic playgrounds of eighties consumerism into luminous newness. Pause for breath. As the band take a festive interlude after some recent dates in the UK, Berlin and Paris, in anticipation of their Hogmanay show in Edinburgh (alongside Franz Ferdinand and Metronomy), GoldFlakePaint caught up with Lewis and Suzi to discuss recording their new EP, their Lost Map residency on the Isle of Eigg and what punk, utopia and musical community mean to them.
words & interview Maria Sledmere
photography Tom Johnson
gold flake paint
Gold Flake Paint
I’m really excited by the audacity of making an EP called Luxury Hits. Can you talk about how the record and its concept/title came about? Suzi The record has been something we’ve birthed and grown over the last year and a half or so. It’s grown and changed over this time and transmorphed into its current form after build ups, heartbreaks, mutations and realisations. The writing process for us is always a pragmatic one where we can get to a ‘finished’ piece, scrap entire chunks of it, sample it, put it through a tape machine, take the vocals in and out and change the drums according to however we’re feeling on that particular day. More and more we seem to allow ourselves to follow a path of ‘what if’ as opposed to becoming precious about elements that may have taken a while to mould. Synchronicity, for example, began as a lazy, slow song written on Eigg and it couldn’t have become the pop track it did had we not allowed ourselves that malleability. There is less of a concept than a feeling at the time of writing. The record is about coming to terms with your space and place in time, recognising your true person and the needs, wants and directions prevalent within that space. It’s a record of growth over the period we were writing it, as I suppose is the case for a lot of the lyrics for songs I write. It’s quite a personal record if you can look between the layers and I’m proud to be able to share it as we have done. Lewis We recorded an EP called Economy Hits as well but didn’t feel that the product reflected our brand ethos. We at Free Love take our quality control very seriously and strive to produce the best quality luxury music for the modern consumer.
moment, it’s in these moments that we look outwards, looking for eyes with which we can make contact and find an understanding. We are responsible for our own Utopia and when we live in a time where hard work doesn’t necessarily equal monetary comfortability or measured success, it’s here that we can stay true to our own personal, human needs for happiness. Creativity, community, love and the freedom to be yourself are human necessities far more rewarding than the inventions of money and the illusion of how we are supposed to progress through age. Luxury Hits was a title that resonated with us and as with the idea of Utopia, luxury is a subjective experience. I can find luxury in the touch of soft skin while you can find it in the taste of dark chocolate. In a time where many are seeking to homogenise experiences that are supposedly luxurious, utopian, free-ing (strong words which hold such potency but become reduced to mere ad fodder to sell you escapes from the neoliberal ties of ‘normality’ - a normality many dull themselves to, forever looking forward to the next
Is the ‘space’ of an EP different to an album for you, and in what ways? What kinds of journey are at stake in each? LC For us, making a body of work which makes sense as a whole is more influential on the creative process than the division between EP and album etc. In this case, we felt that it made sense to call it an EP, but maybe it would have been better to call it a mini album. GFP
‘Tomorrow Could Be Heaven’ features the line ‘Utopia’s in sight’. What do you understand by the concept of utopia, given where we are in the world right now? How does it play out in the sort of late-capitalist, consumerist playground implied by a name like Luxury Hits, which of course resonates with your previous name Happy Meals? SR The line is actually ‘utopias in sight’, in recognition of an idea that not only one Utopia exists. One’s Utopia is a subjective experience and we seek to recognise the plurality of experience as opposed to one homogenised ideal. I think that regardless of where the world is, there have been, are, and always will be ideals to strive towards. One positive that can be gained in what seems to be a negative curve, is the rebirth of communal spaces and identities. When we are comfortable in our creativity and in other areas, it’s easy to believe the neoliberal notion that one man is an island and that we only need ourselves and money to be happy. When our worlds are shaken by political climates, such as the one which exists at the
holiday) and while at times we can feel unsure of whether we belong, there is solace in knowing that experiences of Utopia and luxury are your own to create and enjoy. GFP
I’d say your music really strikes that balance between darkness/expanse and presence/ hope that maybe we need in the context of things like Brexit and climate crisis, and vitally it’s music that seeks a commune of sorts — I mean with Sleep Garden you’ve even put on overnight gigs, which offer a more complex engagement with music, locality, consciousness and collectivity. What are your thoughts on the sorts of communities music can provide? LC Everyday we perform rituals that define our experiences of whatever it is we’re doing - at shows that tends to be going to the bar, buying a drink, chatting to your pals, watching the band, nodding your head etc. etc. etc. I think as an artist your role can be bigger than just
lewis cook & suzi rodden
being a subject of these rituals - we are trying to define our own rituals with the people around us. Anarchy is not ‘no rules’ but a freedom to create your own rules with the people around you. Practising this in a micro-scale and even in a temporary space can be very revealing of the power structures that are inflicted upon us in a much larger scale. In a culture of absolute immediacy, we’ve set ourselves a challenge by presenting something more mercurial than a one-dimensional easily-digestible uniform but we’re both very stubborn and we’re not going to stop. GFP
Can you talk about the Eastern influences in your work, both in terms of sound but also spiritualism? LC I would say the spiritual element of our work definitely takes influence from Eastern philosophies but is also a re-visitation of practices and rituals that can be found in our own history, and indeed cultures from all over the world, beyond the prejudiced common narrative. For example, when you look at what we know of the early-Vedic people’s beliefs (where the golden thread of Hinduism can be traced), there are many similarities with practices and beliefs found in ‘pagan’ cultures, albeit through a different filter and lexicon. GFP
I’m interested in how you factor in or conceive of ‘place’ in your music. I’d love to hear more about your time on Eigg with Lost Map’s VISITATIONS project. How does that site-specific focus affect your writing process? I know you’ve also lived in Orkney to work, Suzi, and wonder if there’s something about the island mindset or soundscape, the sense of remoteness, that offers not only a different headspace but also temporality — almost like a closer proximity to deep-time, embedded in those stark geographies and historic sites. Do you think some of that vision towards expansiveness plays out in your work? How do you process or filter those locations when writing again from more urban centres? SR The week we had on Eigg was really special. It felt good to immerse ourselves fully in the isolation we had, although it came in stages. There was no phone reception or internet, and when it got dark, we found ourselves truly in darkness. Day one for me involved settling in - I need to be comfortable before I can focus so I wanted to make the bothy we stayed in feel like home. I checked my phone a lot and realised how much I procrastinate on it. Slowly we sank into a routine of getting up in the morning, lighting a fire and making coffee before writing or going for a walk. One of the best parts was that the shower was outside on the wall and being totally naked outside with cold air all around you but within the safety of warm water. Isolation in that way can be quite freeing but I have a really active imagination so could scare myself really easily. It was in one of these moments, in the total darkness that I started thinking about aliens and how we were in a perfect situation to encounter them should they choose to visit. Both our experience on Eigg and my year on Orkney have really made me appreciate the good feeling I have around water. I always get these romantic notions of wild swimming and rejuvenating my body with brisk
gold flake paint
coldness, but I usually chicken out in the end. I didn’t wild swim on Eigg but I did in Orkney and I love the eventual tranquillity of it. I like that you lose control of how your body feels for a moment; there’s a shock, and then it takes back control. It’s amazing how good bodily experiences like this can make you feel - how connected - and yet we give less and less importance to things like being in nature, being naked, having physical contact with people. Anyway. I haven’t decided yet whether my enjoyment of remoteness, nature, long landscapes, is something I want to experience long-term or whether I prefer the novelty, but writing on Eigg had a feeling of being fixed in time about it. The experience wasn’t just of recording, it was of the journey there, the music we listened to in the car, stopping to pick mushrooms, the boat over, arriving and arranging our space, and then being left for long periods of time just ourselves. I think you can hear the expansiveness on the record - the experience of focussing on one specific project for one week definitely had an effect on us and the music we wrote while we were there. Back in the city, we could reflect on where we’d been and the experience as a whole and polished up the final parts of the record in our studio at home. GFP
The space of your performances is pretty unique, in terms of the energy you deliver. I think what you do in terms of breaking down that hierarchy between performer and audience is so important and exciting — was there anything or anyone who initially inspired you to start that, or did it
just happen naturally? Do you have any rituals that get you into the headspace for a set? Any examples where crowds or even venues were extra or less responsive? SR I can’t really pinpoint a time or a person that inspired me to start but there are plenty of performers I love to watch. The best performances for me are when you see someone really lose themselves to a moment, really live in the space they’ve created in that time and succumb to it. I love seeing chaos play out in a live performance - that’s someone we both embrace when we play. We’ve an idea of where we’re starting and ending but where we’re going in the middle is down to the feeling of the room and the energy that we conduct alongside the people dancing with us. When we started, I found when we played that I wanted to move and once I allowed that to happen I found that I wanted to cross the invisible stage barrier stopping me from dancing with people who felt the same as I did. It can be an intimidating place on stage and you find yourself adhering to rituals that have been set in place, not by yourself, but by others. It’s a real release to do as I feel and to allow the energy we’re conducting to flow through me without barriers. It’s a way of connecting to myself as I would privately but I choose to share it with the people who come to share the space we perform in. Before we play, I stretch my neck, my back, my arms and my legs. I massage my feet. I use my voice, I do vocal warmups and I shout. There can be crowds who are less responsive, certainly in the beginning but if we were to hold ourselves
back, not only would it be denying ourselves this energy release, but it would be denying a crowd who are perhaps more self-conscious. I would say that with crowds who hold back, it almost spurns us on more. It can become a fun game of push and pull, but at the same time can become emotionally exhausting! I’d say we’re lucky in that the people who come to our shows tend to be quite open and aware of the show they’re coming to see. They open themselves to us and we can reciprocate. GFP
‘Playing as Punks’ is your most streamed Spotify track, as Free Love. It feels tongue-in-cheek but also there’s a sincerity around the idea of musicians trying to navigate the world ‘with a heart of gold’. Is there a value to approaching music with this old-fashioned punk earnestness or can it only be nostalgia now? How does this fit in or differ from the sixties idealism implied by your new moniker? LC I think the idea of ‘punk’ is a kind of funny and interesting one - particularly nowadays. It’s a term that’s seemed to weather better than ‘hippy’ for example, which has come to represent the caricature portrayed by those that looked down on them at the time (unwashed, lazy, totally naïve etc. etc.), largely ignoring the political, sexual and spiritual awakenings that that generation were responsible for. But also that is probably underlined by the overarching question - where are they now? This generation also contributed to fucking the earth harder than any other. But where are all the original punks? They either sold out or bitterly retreated behind their ideological barricades. The new post-post-modern Punk has an inherent knowledge of this - neither naively instigating a new cultural movement or ironically taking the piss - there is a romantic reclamation of an archetype - I guess in some sense, the lyrics to ‘Playing as Punks’ are about the crisis involved with understanding whether living out our ideals is merely a performance of this kind of archetype (call it punk or whatever you like) destined to make the same mistakes, or whether it is more important now than ever before. GFP
I love that there’s this satisfying loop quality to the record, in that it begins with ‘Et Avant’ (before, in front of), and ends on ‘Et Encore’, kind of like this hailing for more, again, repeat. Do you consciously try to seek ways of breaking out of linear structures; do you see your sound as more of an immersive than simply durational experience? LC I definitely have an attraction to circularity, repetition and also ways to re-explore the same theme in a different way. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. I think this record can be listened to as individual songs or as a whole more than say our devotional ceremony record which is definitely more of a continuous collection. GFP
With your music I often think of this question of ‘intersection’: myriad genres coming together, the mixing of analogue/digital, physical energies, performance space and intimacy. Your songs often seem ‘meta’: songs like ‘Synchronicity’ and ‘Pushing Too Hard’ are ostensibly about connection, tempo, sonic affect, the context of musical reception. There’s this whole aesthetics
Luxury Hits is out now, via Full Ashram
lewis cook & suzi rodden
of process. The poet Francesca Lisette writes: ‘Vibrating sounds in the mouth: a sense that voice is somehow an easy way to access embodiment. That sound, when felt in the body, is a conductor, can be a map.’ Is this cartography of embodied sound or voice something you relate to as both performers and composers? LC I’m glad you get that from our music - I think the thing that ties our music together is a kind of intention rather than a particular aesthetic that can be easily translated into any genre-specific. We belong to the first generation to grow up with the internet readily available In our homes, exposed to niche sounds from all over the world, all different genres, all different backgrounds. So much of what is out there is total shit but amongst that there have been so much that has excited us and made us feel whole - our process is influenced by that FEELING. Last weekend we were out at the last ever Night of The Jaguar party (RIP) and they played a track I hadn’t heard before (I think it was ‘Trance Sexual’ by Fantastic Man) which has a really raw 303 sound ripping through the mix over a kind of ethereal wash, and being in that room with everyone dancing and hearing that sound gave me a very magical feeling that made me want to go home and make something. If it’s not motivated by a raw energy like that, it doesn’t happen with us. GFP
How does writing in French enrich and/or alter that experience for you? SR It gives me an adjacent opportunity to explore how I want to write and the way I’d like to convey it. It’s another open door and I like playing with both languages, using English sayings but in French, for example. It’s just another expression for me, like another musical instrument to play with. GFP
Beyond general debates about vinyl revival, I guess we’re still living in this era of post-digital material scarcity, or longing for something solid, that feels artifactual. How important is the material side of release culture to you, in terms of design and visual output but also just the medium of vinyl and merch itself? LC I think there’s two sides of this question, each with a big answer - one being the expressive and creative side and the other being the economics and political side (but I’ll be brief and talk about the creative side). It’s hard to know whether creating something on vinyl is a true realisation of the music or a kind of decadence, but certainly, it brings a ‘reality’ to a release. There’s something very special about holding a record you’ve made - like it’s completed its process. Uploading music to a server will never have that thrill, even though, in reality, that is where most people will hear the music in most cases. I think a lot has changed very quickly (relatively speaking) and the way we process music right now will come to be seen as a transitional stage between the physical-by-necessity and physical-as-experience-enhancement eras. I think vinyl is a very beautiful artefact and one that has an actual use as well as suggesting an authenticity about a release, but I think generations to come with less proximity in time to when vinyl was necessary to listen to music will find their own expressions to accompany their sounds, physical or otherwise. This is something we hope to explore more in the future.
gold flake paint
Handwritten lyrics to our favourite songs 0 02 : G I A M A R G A R E T - B I R T H DAY Introduction by Gia Margaret I guess this song is pretty self explanatory. I think it’s always a weird occurrence when you see what once was a significant date on the calendar. Whether an old flame or a family member who has passed or a friend you’ve lost touch with. Truthfully I was never very confident with the lyrics of this song. I thought initially that the “dog in the yard” line was pretty silly. I wrote Birthday in my old apartment bedroom which faced my old neighbors yard. They had a huge dog that never stopped barking — so that’s where that line came from.
words by Gia Margaret
photograph by Rachel Winslow
Thereâ€™s Always Glimmer is out now, via Orindal Records
Down beneath the ashes and stone, Sure of what Iâ€™ve lived and have known. I see you so uncomfortably alone. I wish I could show you how much youâ€™ve grown.
Sharon Van Etten
GoldFlakePaint's new music journal Issue Two, Winter - Released February 4th 2019 124 pages, beautifully curated and designed. Issue Two...
Published on Feb 4, 2019
GoldFlakePaint's new music journal Issue Two, Winter - Released February 4th 2019 124 pages, beautifully curated and designed. Issue Two...