I’ve talked about Gadget and the Cloud a few times before. I’m continually impressed with how Kelly Doherty progresses as an artist. I really liked her first release, October 31st. Her 2018 full length, Songs For Sad People To Dance To, was one of my favorite records from last year.
If I’m being honest, I don’t know a goddamn thing about this kind of music. Like, is this downtempo? Is it lofi? Can we safely call it ambient? No fucking idea. I know that I like it though. Moody synths and a great vibe. “Too Soon To Say” has me looking forward to whatever she does next.
I’ve written about Kill The Intellectuals before. Twice, actually. I’ve gone on about the prolific nature of Angela-Grace Foster as a songwriter. I’ve rambled on about genre tags and other music classification bullshit. I don’t really need to say too much more along those lines.
The thing that strikes me most about Kill The Intellectuals is that it’s an ongoing project made by someone who is basically still a kid. I know that sounds shitty and dismissive, but I don’t mean it that way. It’s actually one of Foster’s biggest strengths. They haven’t fallen into the trappings that older musicians have. The songs don’t have some jaded subtext. The lyrics are honest in a way that most musicians aren’t. It’s rare to find anyone who is so open in their songwriting. And it’s even rarer to find a musician with such a defined voice at such a young age.
Anyway, let’s talk about the record. All This Time I Was Writing An Album And I Thought I Was Just Living My Life fits very well in the overall oeuvre that is Kill The Intellectuals. Mixing the straight forward folk with the spoken word and experimental sounds, it is a really great representation of what they’ve been doing up to this point. It’s still a lo-fi, bedroom recording type record. It’s the little touches though. The overdubbed vocals on “Vacant Rooms” make for a really great sounding harmony. “Love Is The New Ibuprofen And I Am Hooked” is bookended with backmasking and spoken word. The two “Love vs Anxiety” songs show how a strong voice can carry otherwise simple and straightforward folk songs.
My opinion on Kill The Intellectuals is pretty simple. I’m always excited to hear something new things, and I hope to keep hearing more for a long time to come.
Lake Michigan is a project that really embodies the whole “bedroom recording” thing. It’s a genre that, by it’s very nature, allows for musicians to release a lot of material in a very short time. It’s a genre that seems to be built on simplicity and aesthetics. Since 2012, Christopher Marks has released about eight EPs (and one split with Hopelesstown).
Pylons, Telephone Wires, Trees In The Clearing is different from most of his older releases though. It stay true to past recordings musically, as the songs are still lo-fi and acoustic. The vocals that are what really struck me as different on this one. There isn’t a lot of signing on Pylons, Telephone Wires, Trees In The Clearing. Most songs are delivered with a deadpan, spoken word type approach. Even when there is singing, like in “Sober,” it’s still very flat in delivery.
These four songs made think of two things immediately. The first being old Bright Eyes songs. The second being old Kind Of Like Spitting songs. I hear a lot of “It’s Cool, We Can Still Be Friends” and “We Got As Far As Minnesota” (respectively) in these songs. Not in a shitty, derivative way. More in a shared experience way. I like Lake Michigan for the same reason I like those bands. They are projects built around strong songwriters who aren’t afraid to write honest, personal songs.
I’ve said it a million times before, but honesty counts. Pylons, Telephone Wires, Trees In The Clearing is an honest record. Marks doesn’t shy away from expressing vulnerability, nostalgia, or desire. Call it bedroom music, call it folk, or whatever else. It’s just good. Ok?
I wrote about Kill The Intellectuals back in October. That I’m doing so again already speaks to the prolific nature of Angela-Grace Foster as a songwriter. Foster’s output in 2014 averaged to about a song a week. 51 songs across four releases. It’s remarkable that anyone can have that much material in such a short span of time. It’s even more remarkable that the quality doesn’t waver.
Something About A New Exciting Future Called Promising Untold Happiness is a much different kind of release than I Hope You Die Painlessly – With Laugh Lines And Wrinkles Around Your Eyes was. The main difference is in the overall aesthetic. It’s still lo-fi. It still has some echo and reverb in places. It just doesn’t have the same abrasive and aggressive tone. The electronic samples and sound collage influences don’t really appear either. It’s a much more straight forward type of record.
Something About A New Exciting Future Called Promising Untold Happiness lives and dies as a lo-fi, folk record. It, like it’s predecessor, is a great example of the bedroom/home recording thing. The songs are very raw sounding. They’re built around vocals and guitars. That doesn’t sound like much on paper, but it’s really important. The simpler the structure, the more strengths and weaknesses stand out. Songwriting deficiencies are easier to spot, and a concept can wear thin.
Foster doesn’t fall into these holes though. The songwriting is engaging. Every song plays a part in the overall story, and everything feels personal and open. It’s a style of writing that doesn’t work for everyone. This level of honesty and bluntness could come across as cheesy if done wrong. What I’m saying is that delivery matters, and everything is delivered perfectly. These songs are all specific to certain situations, but they manage to transcend that. “Anoxemia” is a song that, while being about a specific person doing a specific thing, comes across as a universal. To me it feels like a song about growing and trying to reconcile the past. That is a theme that gets covered a lot. It’s there in “Future Letter To My Past Present Self.” It’s there in “Another Needle Stuck In The Carpet.”
The experimental aspects that showed up on I Hope You Die Painlessly – With Laugh Lines And Wrinkles Around Your Eyes might have fallen by the wayside on this release, but the honesty and openness remain. And that is the kind of shit that matters.
Singer/songwriter is a term that has really strange connotations to it. You can kind of blame the 1970s for that. In the US, for example, it’s a term that kind of reminds people of all that schmaltzy bullshit that came out after the folk scene died out. What it really means is embodied by both Lake Michigan (Chris Marks) and Hopelesstown (Will Canning). Simply, music written and performed by the songwriter. Lake Michigan and Hopelesstown are both acoustic solo projects. They both feature a strong influence from indie folk music. They execute is a little differently though. Those differences make for an engaging split.
Lake Michigan is, comparatively, more simple and somber. Being built mostly around lightly strummed acoustic guitar and hushed vocals. His three songs on the split are very calms, reflective, and personal in nature. In short, his music embodies a lot of what the whole bedroom music culture is all about.
Hopelesstown is similar, but with a bit of a different spin. The instrumentation, while still simple guitar at heart, has a more ambient and distorted sound to it. He adds a bit more fuzz to his three songs. There is a bit more vibrancy to these songs than the Lake MIchigan songs. A little more pop, as it were.
Both Lake Michigan and Hopelesstown have a lot of heart. Both show that a lot can be done with a little. Both document how great minimalism can sounds. And, ultimately, both show that very personal music can connect to anyone.
Kill The Intellectuals is a project that lives in the margins. It would easily to classify as lo-fi folk music. It’s would also be easy to classify as bedroom music. Indie, folk punk, whatever. It’s not important. I don’t want to spend a lot of time classifying. Because, like any other piece of art, it should be about substance over style. It’s about how genuine it is. Sincerity goes a long way. Genre, production costs, and any other bullshit trappings don’t. What matters most is the heart and soul. Angela-Grace Foster, as Kill The Intellectuals, has made a record that is entirely heart and soul.
I Hope You Die Painlessly – With Laugh Lines And Wrinkles Around Your Eyes is a record that defies classification. It can be delicate and frail, it can be loud and abrasive. The vocals can range anywhere from singing to yelling to spoken word. The music can go from voice and acoustic guitar to voice over electronic samples and sound collage aesthetics. Songs like “Car Collisions” are built around acoustic guitar and electronic samples. “Fucking Up Yur Spine For Fun” is just static and speech. It’s a record that is emotional and disjointed in a lot of ways.
Overall, it seems to be a general portrait of the artist. Reflections on death and god. It is a record where you are completely exposed to someones entire psyche. It’s not an easy record. It’s not a background noise record. It is a record that demands your attention.
The guitar clips, there is a sustained tape hiss throughout, the vocals turn around on you at the drop of a hat. It’s so fucking hard to explain, but it’s also one of the purest records I’ve heard in a long time. Please, do yourself a favor, give it a listen. This is one of the most engaging 35 minutes of music I’ve heard this year.
There is something about the whole aesthetic of lo-fi that appeals to me. I’m a sucker for it. All the better if it’s steeped in great pop melodies. Captain Baby deliver this kind of thing in spades. Sugar Ox is a great indie rock record in general, but it’s the fuzz and pop sensibilities that make it stand out. Captain Baby is the latest project for Asher Rogers, who is probably best known for his time in Cactus. This is a different kind of band entirely. The punk and thrash influence is gone, and Captain Baby are making something different.
In fact, Captain Baby share more in common with bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Tokyo Police Club. Sugar Ox is an enjoyable listen in the first place, but the dabbling in more experimental things makes it a very interesting listen as well. Album opener, “I Say You,” starts the record strong. It is a great piece of fuzzy production, and just a driving thump. It sets the tone really well for what will come next. Other songs, like “Climb Your Tree” and “Forest Charm,” add a faster element. They take cues from world music and dance music production. Mixing an (almost) four on the floor beat with guitar driven indie rock, they almost have a new wave feel to them.
Sugar Ox is just a great record all around. It is a strange document of the middle ground where world music (Hindi-pop in most cases, some Spanish influence though), indie rock, and dance rhythms meet. Definitely something worth exploring.
I’m not quite sure what to say about this record. I’ve written and rewritten this review a few times already. I just can’t find the right tone. But, whatever.
Museum Mouth have made a great record. My first instinct would be to get all hyped up and yell about how great it is. I’m not sure that would really be appropriate. All told, Alex I Am Nothing is a deceivingly mature record. It’s also pretty fucking heavy. I can’t say for sure, but it is a record that feels more rooted in fact than fiction. Even if it’s not, and it’s just a made up story, there is still a level of honesty that shines through from start to finish.
I said “deceivingly mature” up there because of it’s overall sound. It would be very easy to mistake this as just another punk rock record. Karl Kuehn’s voice is nasally and snotty in some places, forceful in others. The overall tone of the music is lo-fi indie/punk. The songs are catchy as hell, and don’t sound as serious as they really are. It’s easy to miss it. But, in any event, Museum Mouth continue to flex their muscle when it comes to catchy, lo-fi indie/punk. Alex I Am Nothing tracks in a very logical progression from 2012’s Sexy But Not Happy. There are touches of garage rock, indie, punk, and 90s alternative throughout.
But, as far as talking points go, let’s hit the main one. This is a concept record. As such, I want to talk about this record as a whole. Hopefully I can do it without being overly reductive. Alex I Am Nothing is a record about unrequited love and obsession. Specifically through the lens of a gay man who has feelings for a not gay man. It starts with love (well, lust) at first sight. It ends with acceptance, albeit a sometimes bitter version of it. Everything tracks in a realistic, logical way. You can’t help but see yourself in the story. You can’t help but feel bad about what an absolutely shitty situation it is. Museum Mouth has accomplished a tremendous thing. They made a record that tackles an emotionally fucked up topic, and they made it accessible.
Now that I got the review out of the way, I can get all hyped up about this record and yell about how great it is. To wit, every other record coming out this year is on notice. This record is unfuckwithable, and the bar has been set pretty fucking high.