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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Camp Cope Aren’t the Openers Anymore

On an early summer afternoon in Greenpoint, Georgia Maq and Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich of the Australian rock trio Camp Cope are talking about confidence, or, more specifically, the lack thereof that defined their coming-of-age in punk. “I was involved in music for such a long time, but there were so many things I believed I couldn’t do,” says Hellmrich, who plays bass in the band. “I’m still learning. I still have to remind myself, ‘You can do that.’ ”

“I’d always be the acoustic female opener on a bill of dudes,” deadpans Maq, the band’s guitarist and vocalist, who started playing solo at eighteen. “That was the norm. I thought, ‘This is just how shows are, I guess.’ And I was so much better than all of them.”

“She played with some pretty shit bands,” confirms drummer Sarah Thompson, who they all call Thomo.

The confidence gap is a plague on society — the cultural reality that makes women more likely to underestimate their abilities, while men overestimate, get more opportunities, and earn higher pay. In 2018, “carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man” is a line so commonly told to women that an Etsy search yields more than a dozen results, with cute items like tote bags and cross-stitch kits. In her Melbourne music community, Maq knew things were unfair. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence,” she says.

“People around you kind of make you feel like that’s what you deserve as well. They kind of put you in your place,” says Hellmrich, turning to Maq. “You played first, and had the biggest crowd.”

That kept happening. “I kept having the biggest crowds,” clarifies Maq, “and getting paid less than all of them.”

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Camp Cope’s latest record, How to Socialise and Make Friends, sounds like a revelation. Not because three women playing in a band in 2018 is novel, or because women are saving rock music. But because of its clarity and bravery and emotional scope. Over its 38-minute running time, you can hear a band that’s been through the ringer and come out stronger on the other side.

“The Opener” is its grand entrance, an epic, searing anthem that tells the story of the band’s year leading up to its genesis. Its verses detail what women in music still deal with on a regular basis: unsolicited advice, backhanded compliments, the near-constant mansplaining. In her lyrics, Maq takes some of these off-the-cuff comments verbatim and pieces together a constellation of reality.

“Almost everything in that song is a quote,” says Maq — things the band was told over the course of a year by specific people. “That’s why I was so impressed the first time I heard it,” says Thompson, laughing. “I was like, ‘Georgia literally rhymed all these things.’”

The song is the album’s opener, but it sounds like it should be playing as the credits roll. In some ways, for them, it is: if the entirety of the male-dominated music world that they came up in was actually just one long, bad movie of sexist cliches, mansplaining and constant one-upping — maybe this is point where it stops.

“You worked so hard but we were ‘just lucky’
To ride those coattails into infinity
And all my success has got nothing to do with me
Yeah, tell me again how there just aren’t that many girls in the music scene!”
— The Opener”

Lately, when I think about the hatred for women that seemed to hang in the air in the emo and pop-punk music spaces I came up in — similar to the scenes members of Camp Cope came up in, they tell me — I am consumed by thoughts about those women who were most failed by the deep-rooted sexism there: the women who just stopped, who endured enough, said “fuck it,” and never went to another show again, who ceased playing, booking, or writing about music at the whim of men who wanted to stomp them out. Who could blame them? That’s partially why, speaking to the women of Camp Cope, their existence feels like such a victory.

Hellmrich says she had all but given up playing music before Camp Cope. In high school, she played in metal and shoegaze bands, but was always the token woman, playing with men who belittled her and would rewrite her bass-lines. At seventeen, she moved into an apartment above the now-defunct all-ages Sydney venue Black Wire Records, where she helped run shows. “I knew that venue in and out,” she says, but still, men would regularly speak down to her, “as if they deserved the space more than me.” She eventually met women musicians there, and joined a band dubbed “suburban feminist screamo,” an experience she describes as “infinitely better” than those other bands. But when they broke up, she just stopped: “I moved to Melbourne and I was like, ‘I give up on music. I only liked that one band. I’m never playing in a band again.’ ” 

Thompson had also given up playing music for seven years before Camp Cope. A self-described Hole-loving ten-year-old in the mid-1990s, by age twelve she had found some other girls who liked Nirvana and started a band in her family’s garage. She played in bands for years despite the challenges (“It was either be one of the boys or just go away”), but ultimately decided to stop: “I always played in bands, but I also always worked in music.” (Thompson works at Australia’s Poison City Records, who have released Camp Cope records, as well as the likes of Cable Ties, Iron Chic, Pity Sex, and a long roster of others.) “I couldn’t do both,” Thompson says. “You get treated like shit in one and you get treated like shit in the other. I was like, ‘I’m gonna lose my fucking mind…it’s one or the other.’ So I quit playing music for seven years.”

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Then they each met Maq. Georgia Maq describes herself as a lifelong singer and feminist. As a child, growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne, her musician father (Hugh McDonald of the chart-topping political folk-rock group Redgum) would teach her Green Day covers on guitar. When she was about ten, she organized a wage-gap protest at school. She loved playing piano, too, but ultimately dropped out of music lessons (“I hated the bureaucracy of it”) and studied nursing in college. All the while, she began playing shows, just an acoustic guitar and her maximalist, folk punk–tinged songs on topics ranging from dumpster-diving to “white male propagandists on the outskirts of the truth.”

“I always wanted to start a band but nothing ever felt right,” Maq says. “I was too self-conscious to do anything with boys. They didn’t get me or what I wanted to do.”

In 2015, she formed Camp Cope, recruiting Thompson, whom she knew through the local punk scene, and Hellmrich, whom she met while getting a tattoo. Though the band is still relatively new, when the trio came together, they brought collective decades of experience playing and booking, working at labels and venues. They knew what they did and did not want to deal with as a group. By 2016, Camp Cope released a debut, self-titled record, and on the strength of those songs, they’d soon be opening up tours for the likes of Against Me!, Modern Baseball, the Hotelier, AJJ, and Waxahatchee.

How to Socialise and Make Friends is a louder and more collaborative record than their first record. It’s an album that contains multitudes: blunt criticism of sexism in music, but also slow burners on love and death and friendship, ripping pop songs on anxiety and empathy. Maq’s songs tell stories, and within them there are women who have agency, sleazy men who get left behind, images of herself out at night alone. “I can see myself living without you,” she shouts on the title track. “And being fine! For the rest of my life!”

Like their debut, How to Socialise… is an emotional roller coaster, where Maq’s bandmates’ dynamism makes her all-caps poetry all the more potent. Among its most devastating moments is “The Face of God,” in which Maq recounts a sexual assault by another musician, an encounter in which she had to say “no” too many times, where boundaries were crossed. “Could it be true? You don’t seem like that kind of guy,” she sings from the perspective of the subsequent skeptics, drawing out every word. “Not you, you’ve got that one song that I like…”

The album “just depicts the year we had,” says Hellmrich. “The anger is in that album.” Performing the songs now is cathartic, she adds: “Even the quiet songs have loud messages. It’s unforgiving.… Playing these songs, even though I’m not shouting, I can feel the same things as Georgia and I’m getting them out too. We always talk about how amazing playing ‘The Opener’ is. It’s this huge relief. Of all that shit we went through. And finally getting to let it out.”

It’s equally cathartic to listen to. Maq’s raw, booming voice makes each line feel visceral. “I’ve always been very loud and emotional. That’s my whole thing,” she says. “When I first started playing shows, I was very loud, very unapologetic. Then there was maybe like a year where the boys’ club slowly ate away at me, so I started writing songs that were quieter, where I didn’t yell as much. Then I started yelling more.”

“It’s another all-male tour preaching equality
It’s another straight cis man who knows more about this than me
It’s another man telling us we’re missing a frequency
Show ’em Kelly!”
— The Opener”

When we meet up in mid-June, the band is passing a few days before taking off on a six-week, full U.S. tour with fellow pop-punk-adjacent indie rock band Petal (a tour that wrapped up last weekend in NYC). While they wait for the tour to start, Camp Cope have been crashing in Brooklyn on the floor of their previous tourmate Jeff Rosenstock. Today they spent their day off getting manicures with Jeff’s wife, Christine, who is also their good friend; Maq and Hellmrich flash their newly painted nails for me to check out — baby blue, highlighter orange. Maq sips water from a bottle donned with a sticker reading MEN ARE TRASH.

“I remember when you sent it to me,” Kelly says, reflecting on the first time she heard “The Opener.” “I put it on in my kitchen. I was living with a bunch of people, and they were sitting at the table, and I was cooking. And we all had to just stop. Almost every sentence, we were like… OK! Yeah! OK! We’re gonna do this!”

“I had that too,” says Thompson. “I was at work. I sit at a desk with my boss, and he’s putting the record out. I put the phone down and I press played. And I’m like…,” she continues with a big smile and a sarcastic shrug. “Sorry, Andy!”

Although Camp Cope has only existed for three years, they seem like sisters — a tight-knit unit, the type of support system necessary when doing the sort of work Camp Cope has taken on. Together, the band has been unafraid to call out gender inequity in music at a time when on the surface level it seems that things have changed. Their approach seems to be: just uncovering the truth. Earlier this year, for example, they played Australia’s Falls Festival, and onstage they sang, “It’s another man telling us we can’t fill up a tent/It’s another fucking festival only booking nine women,” swapping some lyrics on “The Opener” to criticize their surroundings. Their commentary made headlines. “It was weird. People said it was a controversy when all it was was the truth,” Thompson said in an interview earlier this year.

Camp Cope recognizes that visibility doesn’t always equate to support — that although this is indeed a moment where more women artists are being given wider platforms, there is still a great disparity in terms of the scope of opportunities provided to underrepresented artists, not to mention the persistence of day-to-day sexism. And sometimes shallow industry “support” can actually be a means of exploitation that serves to benefit the appearances of the festivals and the publications more than it helps the artists. “It may appear that there’s all of this diversity in music, but so many of our friends are in the industry and we can see the people who are suffering,” says Hellmrich. “The ones that aren’t getting by, the ones that are getting exhausted, the ones that are burning out the most are women and queer people. It gets incredibly personal and frustrating. They may be getting a spot on a bill because people are trying to champion diversity, but they still can’t afford to live. It’s not working.”

After her seven years away from playing music, Thompson feels like not much has changed — not enough to celebrate, at least. “Coming back to the music scene, it was literally the same,” she says. “There’d been no progression in seven fucking years. Men are still being pieces of shit, sound guys are still fucked, other bands are still fucked. It’s all still fucking the same. I got so mad. I was like, ‘No, fuck it, I’m going to just do it, and I’m going to rip all of your heads off if you’re being cunts.’”

“It’s another man telling us we can’t fill up the room
It’s another man telling us to book a smaller venue
‘Nah, hey, c’mon girls we’re only thinking about you’
Well, see how far we’ve come not listening to you!
“‘Yeah, just get a female opener, that’ll fill the quota.'”
— The Opener”

Thompson is a bit like the tough mom of the group. (Her bandmates sing her praises and also say lots of people are “scared of her.”) About a decade older than Maq, who just turned 24, Thompson is a long-time employee of their label, which puts them in the empowering position of not needing a manager or agent. Instead, Thompson is the manager. On tour, she does everything: playing, managing the band, advancing shows. “And people will still come in and be like, ‘you should do this, you need someone to do this, you need someone to do that,’” says Hellmrich.

With Thompson’s expertise, they’ve stayed staunchly independent even as they gain mainstream attention in Australia: from airplay on major radio stations to attention at national award ceremonies — winning Best Emerging Act at the Age Music Victoria Awards and the Heatseeker Award at the NLMAs, and nominations for the J Awards and the Australian Music Prize.

“We’re in a super lucky position,” Thompson says. “We’re a fully independent band. We’ve never had a cent of debt. We’re in a much better position than most people we know. They appear to be doing so well, but they probably owe fucking $50,000 to somebody. In ten years time, when they’re still paying off their debt, I’ll be like, ‘Oh, well, I’m glad that you tried to tell me what to do.…’”

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The band is critical of music business in general. “The way the industry works is backwards,” says Hellmrich. “Art isn’t valued, artists aren’t making money.” But mostly they want to exemplify that artists have choice — that quickly signing away 20 percent of your income to a manager “doesn’t have to be the only way.” 

“It was super important for me to see people like me playing music in order to make me feel like I could do it,” says Hellmrich, who last year was inspired to release some solo music of her own, under her nickname, Kelso. It’s a collection of dreamy guitar-pop, self-described “cute weird songs for cute weird people.”

We carved our own path of what we wanted and what we wouldn’t accept from people,” says Maq, who these days also fronts a more aggressive five-piece rock band called Würst Nürse, harkening back to her nursing school days. (First single: “Dedication Doesn’t Pay the Rent”.)

“I feel like this is meant to happen in our lives. We were put on this Earth for each other,” Maq says, looking at her bandmates. “We’re soulmates. We were meant to start this band. We were meant to change this little bit of the music scene.”

January of this year, Camp Cope filmed a session playing “The Opener” at the Sydney Opera House. As Maq belts out her lines about not listening to shitty music industry men, the ones who worked so hard while her band was just “lucky,” her expression says it all: she scrunches her face, rolls her eyes and screams it all out. This week, the band returned to the Opera House to play its iconic, 2679-capacity venue. And they weren’t the openers — they were headlining.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BlrCWW3gMYu/?taken-by=camp_cope

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Why Benjamin Lazar Davis Had to Go Home to Rock Out

The 195-mile drive between Bushwick and Saratoga Springs unveils itself in fits and starts. You begin on Broadway — not the Great White Way, but its shabbier, Brooklyn-bound sister — to the Williamsburg Bridge to Delancey, three choked slabs of rigid concrete stretching across the city like veins. By the time you hit the West Side Highway and the turbid sleeve of the Hudson River and head north to the brown cliffs of the Palisades, it feels like you’ve landed on the leeward side of a concrete valley, the George Washington Bridge cast like a lure across state lines. The I-87 slouches northward past New Paltz and Albany before decoupling from the Hudson and scraping the edge of Saratoga Springs’ downtown.

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Benjamin Lazar Davis, 32, took that road home last year to make Nothing Matters, his debut solo album, which was released in May. Davis has been a mainstay in the New York indie scene for nearly a decade, but he’s best-known for his work with the Austin-formed folk-pop outfit Okkervil River. That knack for layered, technically demanding composition followed Davis to his ensemble project Cuddle Magic, a bedroom pop group consisting of Davis, Dave Flaherty, Cole Kamen-Green,Christopher McDonald, Kristin Slipp, and Alec Spiegelman. The band has released several albums, most recently 2017’s Ashes/Axis, an electro-synth heavy record with influences including LCD Soundsystem to Dirty Projectors.

Nothing Matters shares a few chromosomes with Davis’s other projects. It’s still stratified and instrumentally complex bedroom pop, but it’s stripped down in a few places, equal parts Shugo Tokumaru and Sharon Van Etten. “Choosing Sides” could be a single from a lost Shins album, Davis’s voice following a spare acoustic guitar chord as he sings “You got me flowers once for being brave,” before the layers begin to build and more sounds — a steadily exhaling Moog, his own voice in varying pitches — are added to the mix. “Somebody’s Speaking for Me” opens with that same spectral twang before the thump of a drum machine crashes in and low thunder of one of his synths expand the song’s cozy claustrophobia.

The sounds Davis is able to create are a direct product of his recording process. He used money earned from touring with Okkervil River and Cuddle Magic, as well as his collaboration with Joan as Police Woman on the album Let It Be You, to scoop up a trove of obscure instruments — vintage Moogs, hard-to-find Mellotrons, a damn pump organ — only a true gearhead could appreciate. Davis packed a truck full of the stuff headed to Saratoga Springs.https://vvstaging.villagevoice.com/wp-admin/edit.php

Saratoga was a welcome homecoming for Davis. “My whole family — my two sisters and my brother were up there. And their children,” he tells the Voice over a cup of herbal tea. “I have a special relationship with my dad because he’s a musician, and my mom was amazing. It was so great to kind of connect with them in a deeper way now that I’m an adult living in the house.” Davis recorded nearly all of Nothing Matters in his childhood bedroom and treated the process like a day job, beginning at 10 a.m. and wrapping up by 8 p.m. so his parents could get some sleep. (Davis’s father is also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist; he led bands in the Sixties and Seventies as well as touring with the Mamas and the Papas.) The room was mostly unchanged from the way he left it for the New England Conservatory of Music at eighteen; Davis transformed it into a makeshift studio, his misfit collection of instruments lining the floor.

Davis has made a career out of collaboration, and his journey home was a way for him to emerge from that comfortable chamber of partnership and explore his own tastes. “There was an energy in me that I felt while I was doing a lot of collaborating, just that I wanted to put my print on things,” he says. “I don’t want to call it ego, but just that I wanted to show the me that was there in the collaborations.”

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Freedom comes with its own chains, though, and Davis sometimes struggled with the reality that there was no one to bounce ideas off of, no one to tell him that something was gorgeous or that something needed to be scrapped completely. Save for his mixing engineer, no one heard the album until it was completely mastered, not even his parents, who were sleeping under the same roof. “I really care about what everyone thinks, and when you’re collaborating, you have somebody to talk to about the music to,” he says. “When you’re by yourself, there can be no conversation. That’s the difference. Here I was just doing the record without talking to myself about it. I just worked on it, and then the next day I worked on it.” And so on.

One reason Davis was able to dive into Nothing Matters so fully was that he limited his musical options — though “limited” for him is something of a misnomer. He brought only one acoustic guitar instead of his usual four, and lugged only two basses — an electric and a standup — choosing to leave his collapsible one at home. He indulged his keyboard fetish, however, by bringing a Moog, Mellotron, and, yes, that pump organ as well. (NPR Music has a full run-down of the equipment Davis schlepped home.)

Offstage, Davis is no stranger to the paralysis of choice, and bringing every instrument in his arsenal to recording sessions has done more harm than good in the past. One experience in 2016 at a house in Long Island where Davis moved to record some tracks with Cuddle Magic made an especially memorable impression: “I brought all the instruments that everybody had, that all my friends had, and I took the Steinway upright that I used in my record in a moving truck to this place,” he recalls. He recorded near to thirty songs during that time, but they didn’t gel the way he wanted them to and he had to scrap the project altogether. “It was just a big learning experience,” he says. “For me, when I had a class in college, sometimes the entire course boils down to one sentence that you learned.” His lesson from his time on Long Island? “Restrictions are the best thing.”

By making the trek back to Saratoga, Davis was stripping down part of himself. He was still playing with new sounds, but realized he didn’t need every instrument in the world to make the music in his head a reality. For someone with Davis’s expansive tastes, this was a move inward. He was eighteen again, fooling with whatever guitar or cheap synthesizer he had lying around, trying to create a one-man symphony from spare parts. The sounds of Nothing Matters are of someone finding home just where he left it.

Benjamin Lazar Davis plays Trans-Pecos on Tuesday, July 24.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Bodega Are the Summer’s Ultimate Brooklyn Band

In 2016, when Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio’s band Bodega Bay broke up, they determined things had to change if they were going to keep making music. The co–lead singers had been in various bands for years, carefully taking notes of what worked and what didn’t. They ultimately compiled a list of twelve commandments — rules to rock by — for Bodega, their newly formed Bushwick/Ridgewood–based post-punk act: 

  • No references to garage rock.
  • No glam rock.
  • Be more democratic.
  • Do not be “stock” or “basic.”
  • No “pizza core” (“an ethos of playing rock music that’s like, ‘We’re drinking light beer, eating pizza, and we’re going to rock’ ”).
  • Every measure of the record has to earn its place, both lyrically and musically.
  • Do not repeat lyrics.
  • No fluff.
  • No distorted power chords or fuzzy chords (“It’ll sound really good but it would just suck up so much of the frequencies of the mix”).
  • No vocal effects allowed.
  • No lyrical platitudes allowed.
  • Every lyric needs a specific context (“Where does this take place?”).

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Hozie, having grown up all over the country, is a bit of a musical nomad and had been playing in loads of what he calls “generic guy rock bands” since moving to New York a decade ago. He met Belfiglio, who grew up in Kingston, New York, in 2013. A year later, she joined Bodega Bay, which Hozie had started with drummer Aiko Masubuchi, and they released their only album, 2015’s Our Brand Could Be Your Life, but grew tired of that group’s glam rock tendencies. They wanted to launch a more serious project, eventually rounding out the lineup with bassist Heather Elle, guitarist Madison Velding-Vandam, and Montana Simone on the stand-up drums.

“This is an older band — we’re all 28 to 33,” Belfiglio explains. “When we got together two years ago, we were all going through our Saturn returns, we were facing what it is we wanted from our own lives as well as from the projects that we’d been in — there was a lot of contention around that. This band is very vocal — everyone is an alpha dog, every member has their own very particular opinions and wants to be heard. That tension was really good in creating rules because we had to fight. We had to make rules about how we had to come to terms with how to make decisions with each person feeling good and feeling heard. It was a really good aspect for pushing us forward with intention.”

That intention makes them likely the most self-serious and motivated band coming up in Brooklyn at the moment — and perhaps the best. But the last rule on the above list, that every lyric needs a specific context, is what separates them the most from their local contemporaries and what has led to their debut album, Endless Scroll (out today via What’s Your Rupture?), sounding like the best account of what life is like in Bushwick in 2018.

Bodega live at Brooklyn Bazaar

“So many Brooklyn bands don’t sound like Brooklyn bands,” Hozie says, noting that they wanted to place the listener in Bushwick specifically. “The third song is all set in my mind in [legendary DIY music venue] Palisades, which is now long since gone.”

That song, “Name Escape,” simultaneously takes the piss out of gentrified Bushwick culture while providing a loving account of its bar and music scene, where a sea of predominantly white bearded men, all trying to stand out, end up looking exactly the same.

Hozie, trying to figure out who the hell he’s run into at Palisades, pseudo-raps through each memory he associates with the mystery man. “I’ve seen him at Palisades closing out tabs,” he begins, adding: “I’ve seen him outside of metros flagging down cabs”; “his pants are much tighter than the last time we met”; “he’s got a pizza-core badge which he bought on the Internet”; “online he’s typing with a pseudonym so even messaging I’m not quite sure it’s him.” In a neighborhood that prides itself on being different and unique, everyone ends up looking the same, complete with leather jackets and skinny jeans.

The local references don’t stop there; Endless Scroll’s lyrics see Hozie move out of his apartment on Bogart Street in Bushwick following a breakup; complain about $9 smoothies in Union Square; ride the Staten Island Ferry while mourning a lost friend; hook up at the halfway point of the Williamsburg Bridge; and travel to see Belfiglio’s great-grandparents’ name on Ellis Island — all while staring at their various computer screens and slaving away at their various desk jobs. When on “Bodega Birth,” Endless Scroll’s second track, Belfiglio sings, “This is documentary,” it’s easy to believe her; the album perfectly describes the struggle it takes to live in a gentrifying New York neighborhood in 2018 — the glamour of experiencing this city’s famous landmarks, the monotonous everyday work grind to afford to do so, and the drunken release at closing time at Brooklyn’s various cheap dive bars. When Bodega say, “You can’t knock the hustle,” you know damn well that they’ve worked their asses off to get here.

“I was just trying to write from a much more personal place,” Hozie explains. “I feel like you have a moral responsibility when you write a song or when you’re on a stage to really tell the truth.”

Taking what they call “the route of honesty,” Hozie and Belfiglio leave their lives exposed throughout Endless Scroll’s fourteen tracks. Though they write about their home neighborhood in a remarkably similar way to how Ryan Adams described the East Village in the early 2000s, the two songwriters also explore more intimate topics, including their own relationship origins — the two met by chance at an of Montreal show at Music Hall of Williamsburg in 2013 and began dating three years later — the breakup of Bodega Bay, and the death of Hozie’s mother, who passed away a week before they started recording the album in April 2017.

Produced by Parquet Courts’ Austin Brown, Endless Scroll interrogates the role of technology in their relationship, social lives, and their day jobs. “I fell in love staring at screen/Triple dots I see bouncing/Name lights up/My heart will beat,” the two sing simultaneously on “Bodega Birth,” describing the thrill of seeing each others’ Gchats come through, later adding, “I touch myself while staring at your chat text box,” on “Margot.”

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“We’re always communicating through the internet somehow,” says Belfigio, who spent her days behind a desk as a receptionist at a massage parlor, and later at a post-audio production studio in Union Square; Hozie, meanwhile, worked in the edit lab of the New York Film Academy. “That’s how we got together as a couple,” says Hozie. “We would be talking eight hours a day. That lyric, ‘Stare at computer,’ popped into my head — ‘Wow, that’s my whole life.’ All day from nine to five I’d be staring at my computer. I’d get off, come home, maybe write a song and track a demo staring at a computer. Then I’d be editing a movie staring at a computer. Then time for some rest and relaxation, maybe some porn or Netflix — that’s still staring at a computer. Maybe I’ll listen to an album now — computer. Catch up with an old friend — computer. You literally can’t escape.”

Such is life in 2018; love stories increasingly begin online and are perpetuated through text conversations, Facebook relationship statuses, and Instagram couple photos. Hozie and Belfiglio are hyperaware of this, using the all-encompassing role of technology in our lives not only to describe their own experiences, but also to portray what being a resident in Brooklyn during the Trump era is like for the outside world. Bodega have made their lyrics intensely specific, but in doing so, they’ve created perhaps the first quintessential Bushwick album to date, uniquely relatable to those who live here. It’s no wonder that they’ve become the neighborhood’s favorite band — members of the Mystery Lights, Future Punx, and the aforementioned Parquet Courts frequent their shows, often moshing in the first row.

As they mentioned in the list of rules that were conceived at the start of Bodega, every lyric needs a specific context. Just as Arctic Monkeys introduced the world to Sheffield, England, on their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Bodega have done so with Bushwick, providing the first relatable and comprehensively detailed account of the gritty, pretentious, and perpetually fucked-up neighborhood that’s come to dominate the New York music scene in recent years.

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On “Love Is Dead,” Chvrches Lean Into Their Moment in the Pop Spotlight

Chvrches singer Lauren Mayberry likens famed producer Greg Kurstin’s basement studio in Los Angeles to a bunker. A quiet, underground shelter, the space proved an ideal sanctuary for recording Love Is Dead, the band’s third album, which dropped last week. Mayberry and bandmates Martin Doherty and Iain Cook had instant chemistry with Kurstin, known for his work with Adele, Sia, and Beck. “We just went into a little hole,” says Mayberry. What they emerged with is the only synthpop album you need to hear this summer. 

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“Going down into that basement in Los Angeles all day and making a record, and then coming outside every day and being hit with this unbelievably intense sunshine — that’s basically our band,” says Doherty. “There’s both sides of what we do. And that’s what we’re trying to do on this record, bring both of those things into focus.”

Ever since the band burst out of the Scottish gloom early in the decade, Chvrches have bridged the world of indie and mainstream music, hiding deeply introspective lyrics within confoundingly catchy pop songs and dance-floor anthems. All three members of the trio are from small towns outside of Glasgow, and they came together in September 2011, when Cook and Doherty asked Mayberry to sing on some demos. With a sound honed from Cook’s and Doherty’s years kicking around the local music scene, and lyrics sharpened by Mayberry’s time working as a freelance writer, Chvrches seemed to emerge as a fully formed pop juggernaut.

The band attracted near-instant buzz when it posted early tracks “The Mother We Share” and “Lies” online; an EP emerged in November 2012. After signing with Glassnote Records the following year, the band embarked on a slew of North American tour dates, including an appearance at SXSW and a performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Their debut studio album, The Bones of What You Believe, was released in 2013, with Every Open Eye following in 2015.

While their music has enough pop sensibility to fit comfortably on the radio, Chvrches don’t consider themselves pop stars. “A band like the Cure can have songs played on the radio,” says Mayberry of the path the group  is on, “and they’re technically pop music and catchy as fuck, but they were still introspective and weird.” The band has yet to see a single break into the Top 10, yet each year it climbs closer to headline slots at festivals like Coachella, Austin City Limits, and Outside Lands. This weekend they’re back in New York at the Governors Ball, on June 3. 

Love Is Dead, their first record with an outside producer and their first recorded in the U.S., arrives at an auspicious time for Chvrches. Mayberry has long spoken out about misogyny in the music industry — notably in an op-ed that appeared in the Guardian in 2013. And while the album isn’t expressly political, Chvrches encourage fans to listen beyond the lyrics about personal relationships and growing older, and consider the content at large. “I don’t want people to be picking apart this and analyzing that, based on what they know about me as a person,” says Mayberry. “I want them to think about what it means to them.” 

In describing what the album sounds like to her, Mayberry explains, “It kind of just sounds like trying to figure things out, you know? It’s not necessarily making a huge depressing statement. It’s more about trying to figure out, like, once you feel a certain way about things or once you know too much or finally know enough, how can you proceed in a way that’s positive, and where you find the hope in those kinds of situations.”

Choruses on Love Is Dead sound bigger and bolder than anything we’ve heard from the band before, yet lyrically this album explores the undercurrent of melancholy and political anxiety that’s always been a part of Chrvches’ work. Early singles “Gun” and “Bury It” reflect their tendency to play with violent imagery, masked in shiny synths. There’s an inherent darkness to their music. In the bright-sounding “Graves,” off their new album, Mayberry sings of the current refugee crisis (“Do you really believe that you can never be sure/They’re leaving bodies in stairwells/And washing up on the shore”), the idea of ignorance being bliss (“If I only see what I can see I know it isn’t there”), and the inaction of our political leadership (“Looking away, you’re looking away/from all that we’ve done”).

“You can have a song like ‘Miracle’ on the record, or ‘Get Out,’ which is a fucking sunny pop song that repeats the same two words over again in the chorus, because that’s pop music,” Doherty says. “But at the same time, I want to put a song like ‘God’s Plan’ on that album, that’s about depression and the futility of being fucking alive. That song is just as valid in this band and I think at the core of everything we’ve done up until this point.”

Mayberry is in the rare position of having written music and art criticism in the past, prior to putting her band’s work out into the world to face judgment. Love Is Dead has received both exceedingly positive and decidedly lukewarm reviews, and while Mayberry tries not to read them, she has no qualms about sharing her thoughts on the matter. “All I ever want is to feel something and be made to feel something. Beyond that, I don’t know if I am right or wrong or if someone else is the other. But I’d rather be here trying to be a part of it and engaging than sitting on the side, being negative and trying to analyse human behaviour without actually taking part in it or doing anything,” she wrote in a recent post on Instagram. “This rhetoric is kind of bullshit. Not because it’s a ‘bad’ review, but beyond that. If you don’t like the music, fine. If you don’t like me, fine/I feel you 99% of the time. But please don’t make this music and this record a symbol or scapegoat for something else.”

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Mayberry’s sense of frustration is apparent from the album’s title, which reflects the idea that we exist in a time void of empathy — whether for victims of human rights abuses or those we interact with on a day-to-day basis. “We’re fucked, the world is fucked,” says Cook. “But there’s an ellipsis at the end. It’s Love Is Dead… Like, how did we get to this point? And how do we move on from this point?” 

Maybe their reckoning, is that we too need to wake the fuck up. Or finally, that the answer isn’t in the knitty gritty of the lyrics at all — instead of picking them apart, we must arrive at it on our own.

Perhaps Chvrches want to deliver us from evil, shining their light into the world’s darkest corners, just as their music penetrated and brightened the “bunker” that is Kurstin’s underground studio. “I feel like the idea that pop can’t be artful, or can’t be meaningful in any way, is snobbery, I suppose,” Mayberry explains. “So, I’m just trying to do both. Get yourself a band that can do both.”

Chvrches play Governors Ball on Sunday, June 3.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

On New Album, Courtney Barnett Takes a Load Off

If you’ll bear with a shaky hypothesis for a second, there are really only two types of art. On one side is the art that’s inward-looking, the kind that reads at worst as a maudlin confessional about that time you had a bad date and, at best, as a diary of how the world has interacted with you and all the damage and good it’s done. The other is reflective, more about how you see the world than how the world sees you. Good artists are typically masters of one or the other, either better at holding up or looking in the mirror.

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Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett’s follow-up to 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, shows an artist adept at both. Where Sometimes told George Saunders–like stories about suicidal young men and the doldrums of gentrification, Tell Me has Barnett looking you right in the eye and confessing her anxieties and angers. “I feel like it’s kind of a cliché, but a lot of stuff was going on from ages 27 to thirty for me,” says Barnett, who turned thirty in November 2017. “It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and maybe it was through writing this album.”

Barnett is introspective with a desert-dry sense of humor, but calling her shy unfairly discounts her native Australian warmth. She grew up in Sydney before moving to Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, where the attended art school. Next came several years on the garage rock circuit in Melbourne, but it wasn’t until Barnett released the track “Avant Gardener” in 2013 that she started making waves across the Pacific. Sometimes, Barnett’s critically acclaimed 2015 album, was her formal introduction as a bonafide indie rock doyenne.

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Save for the casually excellent collaborative album Lotta Sea Lice she recorded with former War on Drugs frontman Kurt Vile, Barnett has been quiet, releasing only a few singles (“How to Boil an Egg,” the infectiously catchy “Three Packs a Day”) and touring with her wife, Jen Cloher, herself a fixture in Australia’s DIY scene. Follow-up albums — especially when you’re coming off something as beloved as Sometimes — can be overwrought affairs, with artists looking to bottle whatever intangibles made for a great album in the first place.

Overthinking is not one of Tell Me’s flaws. There are moments on the album when it seems like Barnett is writing more for catharsis than composition, something she admits freely when asked about her headspace in constructing such a direct record. “I sat down and kind of wrote without a strong idea or narrative in mind. I just kind of flailed around, really,” Barnett says. “I kind of have to get that out of the way to get to the good stuff.”

But Tell Me is the rare record that gets the blend of personal and accessible just right. The stories and advice that stud the entire album feel like they’re coming directly from Barnett. When she sings “Friends treat you like a stranger and/Strangers treat you like their best friend, oh well” on “City Looks Pretty,” you can feel the weight of fame alongside her. It’s heavy. It drags. This isn’t a third-person diagnosis of some stand-in character, this is Courtney Barnett laid bare and telling you this is what her world looks like.

She continues to mine catholic issues like misogyny, impostor syndrome, and loneliness throughout the rest of the record, sometimes with startling directness. “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Self-Confidence” is about, well, crippling self-doubt and a general lack of self-confidence, something that Barnett dealt with after the success of Sometimes. “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” begins with Barnett deadpanning those exact words over a thicket of feedback before it crashes into a swampy grunge rock.

As much as those tracks provide personal expository details on Barnett’s post-fame journey, it’s on “Nameless, Faceless” that she makes a universal statement of contemporary issues. The song’s backstory is well-known by now: After Sometimes dropped in 2015, a petulant commenter said of Barnett’s songwriting that he “could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you.” She responded by writing a withering comeback set to a buoyant guitar riff, a cheery song that belies its weariness of a world dominated by petulant twerps squawking anonymously. “You sit alone at home in the darkness/With all the pent-up rage that you harness/I’m real sorry/’Bout whatever happened to you.”

Barnett decided to set her view of the world to music, and much of Tell Me sounds as if she meant this to be a personal cleansing ritual. But she doesn’t want its personal narrative to refract its impact on others. “If the album is completely for yourself you would keep it to yourself, you know?” she says. “I want it to have benefits for someone else to listen, or to share in the stories, or the misery, or the happiness.” 

Courtney Barnett plays the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday, May 19

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“Thanks Man!” Remembering Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit

My most prized possession is a small tan poster that hangs on my wall just feet from my bed. It’s a drawing of a long-bearded man with a hat emblazoned with the word “JOHN” in all-caps. But beside him reads “THANKS MAN! Scott” in scribbled handwriting.

It was given to me by Scott Hutchison, frontman of Scottish indie rock outfit Frightened Rabbit, after his solo show on October 14, 2014, at the Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn. He was performing under his Owl John moniker, and had just come off the stage, sweaty and multiple whiskeys deep, making a point to talk to every fan that came up to him. I held back at first, too nervous to approach my favorite lyricist of all time. Never mind the fact that I had interviewed him a few weeks prior. I couldn’t move a muscle.

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Finally swallowing the lumps in my throat, I mentioned that it had, in fact, been my voice on the phone. Before I could finish my sentence, his face lit up and he gave me a giant hug, thanking me profusely, mentioning that he could tell that I “gave a shit.” After a minute or two, I encouraged him to talk to the others in the growing line behind me. He told me to meet him backstage for some wine.

I was dumbfounded. One of my favorite musicians wanted to hang out with me? I couldn’t believe it.

We ended up over at Mission Dolores for a few more drinks and I remember almost feeling let down by how normal he was. The guy who had written The Midnight Organ Fight — still my favorite album of all time — just wanted to talk about burritos and his girlfriend. But more importantly, at some point in our mutual drunken haze, he told me to keep pursuing writing, saying that my piece on him was one of his favorites.

At that point in my life, I was very recently unemployed, and had yet to be paid a single cent for my words. Scott Hutchison gave me the confidence to keep pushing to make it as a writer, no matter how difficult and scary it seemed then. Without him, I doubt I’d be writing these words today.

I interviewed Scott twice more over the next few years, most recently about the tenth anniversary tour of The Midnight Organ Fight, which hit the Bowery Ballroom and Music Hall of Williamsburg in late February of this year. In that conversation, I asked him the same question I had asked him twice before, one that I designed especially with him in mind almost a decade earlier: “How do you manage to sing these ultra-personal songs night after night in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of people?”

This time Scott gave me a variation of the answer he’d given me before: “Who is the protagonist? It’s not me. It’s going to be them. It’s their life. They projected their lives to these songs and that makes me very proud that a song can be specific, yet universal enough that it can allow people to walk into their own experience. Yes, they’re singing these lyrics that are personal to me, but they are not considering my life too much.”

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That is why every tribute written about Scott’s passing feels so deeply intimate; his brutally honest and strikingly heartfelt lyrics soundtracked our lives, got us through our worst breakups, and pulled us out of our lowest lows when we needed something, anything, to grasp on to. It’s why it’s nearly impossible to write about Frightened Rabbit without first mentioning some random memory we associate with their music.

And Scott’s been there for me for years. He was there when my freshman year roommate first played me “My Backwards Walk” in the dorms. He was there when my friend Jenna died, and our mutual friend Travis and I listened to “Poke” in silence while driving back from a concert a couple of weeks after the funeral. He was there when my friend Elli left Berkeley to study abroad in Scotland for a year, and I’d play “Scottish Winds” each time I knew she was tuning in to my college radio show. He was there when I was terrified and left my native Bay Area and moved to the East Coast, listening to “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” on the flight to calm me down. He was there when I was broken up with for the first time in New York, using his “All is not lost” refrain on “State Hospital” to get me through it.

He was there for me then, and I know he’ll be there for me in the future. He’ll be there for all of us in the future.

I’ll never hear his voice again on the other end of a phone call, never again get a sweaty hug from one of the few musicians I felt like I could call a friend. But some kid experiencing his or her first heartbreak will find The Midnight Organ Fight and it’ll show them that they’re not alone. Because, for as personal and specific as Hutchison’s lyrics were, they are universal and applicable to all of us, no matter what we’re going through.

In his song, “Head Rolls Off,” Scott sang, “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth.” He made colossal changes to my personal world, influencing my career and life in ways I didn’t think possible for a musician from halfway across the world. And for that, all I can say is “THANKS MAN!”

If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operated 24/7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.

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Scotland’s Young Fathers Come Out Fighting

It’s hours before another sold-out show on their European tour and the guys in the Scottish indie-rap trio Young Fathers are calling on a shitty Skype connection from Paris. The lighting at the venue, the Badaboum, is musty, and the group seems tired (and not particularly excited to be talking to a journalist) after a month of promoting its new album, Cocoa Sugar: Half of Alloysious “Ally” Massaquoi’s face is cut off by the screen, Kayus Bankole has his head in the palm of his hands for half of our chat, and Graham “G” Hastings is looking around everywhere but at the camera. When asked how the live shows are going, Graham in particular sounds weary but, still, philosophically resolute. “Some places are so reserved they just stand and watch, sometimes people are just high as fuck, so they don’t move — you want it to be like Soul Train, with everybody dancing and ignoring the band, but it never is,” says Graham of what he wishes the live show would be like for his music, which, with its dark, dramatic passion, doesn’t exactly evoke a joyful dance line. “Before, you’d have to fight to get people involved. Now we don’t have to fight, but I still like thinking that way. Now it’s a fight to make sure they come back the next time. It’s not as abrasive a thing, but it’s still a fight.”

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“A fight” is a good way to understand how this group views its mission (and live shows, which have a sweaty fury), even after two mixtapes, three albums, and enough recognition to sell out shows. They are a self-described working-class band from Edinburgh, and that means that there is always — always — work to be done. On Cocoa Sugar, their third album, Young Fathers have taken their sound to its poppiest place, with well-spun, Baptist church choir hooks that loop in your brain even when you turn the album off. That catchiness is intentional: They might have won the U.K.’s prestigious Mercury Prize in 2014 — beating indie darling FKA Twigs — but critical success and award money isn’t enough to pay the bills.

“This isn’t a lifestyle choice. If we’re not making money then we have to go get jobs. We can’t just do this because we like music,” says Graham. “We’re punching a clock. Even if it’s a weird clock, we’re still punching it.” And yet, the easy, crowd-pleasing Migos they are not, either: Cocoa Sugar is still characteristically knotty, with the trio interlacing rapping and singing over homemade beats à la 1970s New York experimental duo Suicide (whose synth lines are referenced throughout), creating hip-hop as reflected through a convex mirror. “We’re not trying to put people in a trance,” he says. “We just do what feels good.”

All thirty years old now, the three members of Young Fathers came together at around fourteen years old as regulars at a local hip-hop night at an Edinburgh club. “It was a room with a white sweaty wall and it was just all out,” Graham says. This was the Y2K era, and the DJs often incorporated dancehall and r&b into the mix, a novel approach in Scotland. In 2018, rap is regarded as pop music all over the world, but it wasn’t ten or fifteen years ago. “It was our first introduction to everything. When you went to school, rap wasn’t what kids listened to — it was underground,” Graham says. By chance, right before the three of them started hanging, Graham had been making simple beats. “A friend from school gave me software, and I saw that it was so easy — there’s the drum, there’s the bass. Then we just started making songs together in my bedroom,” he says. They recorded their first work, a little love song called “Tell My Why,” on a karaoke machine, and though that song never saw the light of the day (“No way! We were fourteen-year-old boys trying to write songs,” says Kayus), they formally started the band in 2008, and started performing at clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow, eventually releasing well-received mixtapes in 2011 and 2013 and, finally, a pair of albums in 2014 and 2015.

Alloysious Massaquoi, Graham “G” Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers perform at The Roundhouse on March 21, 2018 in London, England.

It must feel good, then, to confound expectations at every turn. Their roots are as a rap group, sure, but across Cocoa Sugar they sound — sometimes alternatively and sometimes all at once — like punks, avant-garde experimentalists, and seductive r&b crooners. Though the album is remarkably consistent in its scrappy, seductive tone and tempo, the process of creation for the band is loose, all the better to let each member be as weird as he wants to be. To record Cocoa Sugar, they built, for the first time, a professional studio in Edinburgh, but managed to keep it purposefully amateur. “We don’t like nice studios!” says Kayus. They are secretive about the equipment they use, but Graham says it’s pretty basic and, most important, accessible at all times. There isn’t one member who serves as the producer — they all just create sounds and see where the music takes them. “All of our equipment is turned on all the time so anyone can hit anything — it’s completely open for people to do whatever, rather than it being a complicated setting where you need to plug something in. If you want to make a noise, it’s there,” says Graham. “We’re self-contained. Sometimes when you work with engineers, by the time they’ve set up the microphone, the moment is gone.”

Cocoa Sugar swirls around questions of religion and race and masculinity and identity (Ally is originally from Liberia, while Kayus was born to Nigerian parents in Scotland) and class, but never really reveals what it’s trying to say about any of them, giving the band a feeling of intriguing intangibility. “People are like, ‘We don’t understand it.’ It’s just like, ‘Fucking hell, man. What can you do?’ This is not us trying to be anything — it’s just who we are,” Graham says. “Maybe it’s because we’re from this cold northern part of Europe where no one does anything like this. Maybe the three of us will be the only ones who can understand it.” There is something naturally sphinx-like about a band with soulful Marvin Gaye vocals coming from the stark and classic Edinburgh, but they also seem to cultivate and encourage a certain kind of unknowability. I ask them what they mean by a particular line — “Don’t you turn my brown eyes blue,” on “Turn” — and they prefer to leave the interpretation general. “It could be about race, it could be about individuality — it’s about embracing who you are. And being adamant that it’s OK to be who you are,” says Ally. “We’re leaving a lot of question marks for self-discovery in the future,” says Kayus.

When asked to describe Edinburgh, an unlikely home for some of the most cutting-edge hip-hop around, Graham at first sees it as something of a foil for artistic souls like Young Fathers. “ ‘Gray’ is probably the best word to describe it. It’s not really a music city, it’s not really a cultural city. It’s dead, in a way, so when you express yourself, it’s not taken well. When I was young, [creativity] was a reason to get beat up,” he says. “The typical kind of working-class ethos is always trying to toughen yourself up, so you couldn’t really express yourself. When we started in music, it opened up a whole world.” Raised without a silver spoon, they each have a heightened need to be not just creative, but successfully creative, a pressure that the prestige of winning the Mercury Prize helped alleviate — a bit. “See! We were right, the whole time!” says Graham. “For your parents, you can say, ‘I’m not just fucking about. This is a thing now.’ Coming from Edinburgh, you leave school, you get a trade, and then you work for the rest of your life. When you can prove that you are a working musician, then it’s an extra bonus to tell your parents.”

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What Cocoa Sugar has most of all is intensity, which, after forty minutes on a shaky Skype call with the sharp and decisive band, feels logically like the only kind of music it could ever make. Take the track “Wow”: They screech the words “Ego/Ego/Giving me what/Giving me what I need over a manically pitch-shifting beat that sounds like it’s driving itself right off a cliff. You hear both freedom and strain at once in their voices — they’re liberated, they seem to be saying, but in these exhausted voices it can not be overlooked that this is hard-fought liberation, that it was never (and never will be) easy. Working-class lads from Edinburgh with nothing but everything to prove. “That gray [Edinburgh] attitude, it’s still with you. It’s ingrained. You battle against it probably for the rest of your life,” Graham says, in the shadow of a touring schedule that will find him and his bandmates fighting their fight at least through June. “But it makes it all that much more special when you do battle it.”

At 8pm on May 5, Young Fathers play Elsewhere – Zone One at 599 Johnson Ave. in Brooklyn

 

The Village Voice is celebrating the season’s arts and culture highlights throughout the week of April 16, 2018. For full coverage to date, visit our Best of Spring Arts 2018 page.

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LCD Soundsystem Close Out a Banner Year With an Epic Stand in Brooklyn

At the start of each performance during LCD Soundsystem’s epic ten-night stand at Bushwick’s Brooklyn Steel, a giant disco ball descends from the rafters, signifying that a party is beginning, one fans won’t likely forget. But by December 17, 2017, the fifth show of the series, singer James Murphy was already having trouble remembering which night it was. “Hi, everybody, welcome to show four!” he said, quickly correcting himself: “Show five!” Murphy was recovering from the flu, calling the opening night performance a week before some of the worst singing he’s ever done. The band had already played two residencies at Brooklyn Steel this year, consisting of seven shows in June and five in April respectively. But this marathon stand in the middle of flu season would mark the band’s longest consecutive run yet. Ten nights of sweaty, dance-happy rapture can take a toll on anyone, let alone a group of middle-aged hipsters.

The Brooklyn Steel shows cap a landmark year for Murphy and his cohorts, who hijacked New York’s music scene more than a decade ago and then seemingly walked away forever in what Murphy decided would be their final show on April 2, 2011, at Madison Square Garden. He believed that bands were often only good for three solid records, and he’d made three classics: LCD Soundsystem in 2005, Sound of Silver in 2007, and This Is Happening in 2010. Once Murphy had made up his mind, that was it. This nearly four-hour swan song was chronicled in the documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits, as an enthusiastic crowd mourned the loss of a band that had the ability to bring together punk rockers, indie kids, and, generally, anyone seeking a good time.

While the band was broken up, Murphy got married, had a son, made his own Blue Bottle Coffee blend called House of Good, opened Williamsburg wine bar the Four Horsemen, co-produced Arcade Fire’s fourth studio album, Reflektor, and lent percussion to David Bowie’s Blackstar. He was busy.

Then, in 2015, rumors began circulating that there’d be some sort of LCD reunion. On March 27, 2016, it happened at Webster Hall, as the band played its first show in almost five years before going on to headline festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo. Before long, they were back in the studio working on their fourth album, American Dream, which was released in September. For Murphy — along with current members Pat Mahoney, Nancy Whang, Tyler Pope, Al Doyle, Gavin Rayna Russom, Matt Thornley, and Korey Richey — these latest Brooklyn dates are something of a Christmas homecoming.

At last Sunday’s show, a familiar announcement came after Murphy’s energetic performance of “Yr City’s a Sucker,” punctuated by “ha-ha-ha-ha”s and accompanying hand gestures: “If you’re in this general swath, take a picture now then put your phone away. If you just need evidence you were here, do it … and unless you’re a grandmother, turn your fucking flash off. Learn how to use your phone, or Nancy will have to talk to you about it.” Whang chimed in, pointing out individuals and telling them to do the same while Murphy sipped from a glass of red wine.

The crowd seemed to take the hint, and from the start — a one-two punch of “Get Innocuous!” followed by “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” — the entire floor swayed under the relentless disco ball. The band tore through “Tribulations” and “Movement.”, before Murphy donned his suit jacket for “Someone Great,” only to take it off as soon as the track faded out. The wave of collective euphoria kept building through two tracks off American Dream, “Change Yr Mind” and “Tonite,” before finally cresting when the band returned for the encore and launched into the shimmering “Oh Baby.”

“I told you we’d come back. We made a pact,” Murphy told the crowd. “We have a relationship now, in a way. Not like that. Don’t call all the time.”

LCD Soundsystem. Night 3 of 10

For LCD Soundsystem, 2002’s “Losing My Edge” stood as both introduction and statement of intent, as Murphy sang-spoke his fear of losing relevancy to “the kids from France and from London” and “the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered Eighties.” In 2001, when 9/11 changed everything, Murphy was on the wrong side of thirty; he was broke, and he was sleeping on an inflatable mattress at DFA Records’ clubhouse/HQ in Greenwich Village. “Losing My Edge” gave him the energy to come out of that.

“I think you should know that Pat is bleeding for you,” Murphy announced. “His snare drum is covered in middle-aged man blood. You know what? Middle-aged man blood is pretty cheap.” Murphy was in high spirits, marching equipment around the stage, laughing, and messing up the lyrics to “Dance Yrself Clean.”

The night ended with the dancefloor anthem “All My Friends,” arguably the closest thing New York’s post-millennial rock scene has to a theme song. When it first came out, Murphy worried that the song was too pop, with its steady build and skittery “Baba O’Riley” synths. Pitchfork named “All My Friends” the second-best track of the 2000s, second only to Outkast’s “B.O.B.” It was the song that proved Murphy and LCD Soundsystem were never really in danger of losing their edge at all, despite growing older: “You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan/And the next five years trying to be with your friends again.”

The song evokes a certain euphoria associated with the realization that you’re not alone, embodying the sense of community and comfort the city found in music in the early 2000s. It speaks to young people trying to find a sense of themselves and their crowd in New York City. The lights came up as the song drew to a close with Murphy singing, “Where are your friends tonight? If I could see all my friends tonight.” And for a second they were all there, by your side, before heading into the night.

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How the New, Weird Suburbs Inspired EMA’s Noise Folk

Noise-folk artist EMA’s new record, Exile in the Outer Ring, began life in 2015 in a white dome in MoMA P.S.1’s snow-covered courtyard. For four hours on a Sunday in February, she sculpted soundscapes from atop a platform set up like the blandest of living rooms: TV, palm plant, messy coffee table, Ikea lamp. She never addressed the crowd; she was in a bubble inside the bubble of the dome, her audience an intermediate layer that formed a ring around the stage. “I like the idea of multiple realities layered on top of each other,” she says. “And that space from the performance — this generic American apartment, with beige carpeting and a shitty couch, slit blinds, a ceiling fan — that’s where I wrote the record from.”

EMA, whose full name is Erika M. Anderson, worked on Exile in her similarly bland apartment outside Portland, Oregon, where she’s lived since 2010. “I feel like that apartment, that experience, could be anywhere in America,” she says. That anonymous quality became a grounding concept for the album: the Outer Ring, the name the artist coined for the fastest-growing areas in the country. “It’s the suburbs,” Anderson says, “but the new suburbs. Even though the landscape is becoming homogeneous, the people in it are becoming weirder and more diverse and more unique.” As global capital gentrifies cities and regular folks are pushed out — exiled — the suburbs, she explains, are where the good stuff, the future, is happening. Resettled-refugee teens hang out in empty CVS parking lots with their rural-raised classmates or drive for hours on the highway at night, stopping at Denny’s at 2 a.m. before going home to play video games and post on Tumblr. “The internet, particularly the weirder places, feels like the Outer Ring to me,” Anderson says. “I’m interested in the spiritual transformations and radical politics that happen in those places.”

Full of feedback and thoroughly American influences, from hymns to folk ballads to Guns N’ Roses, Exile creates a noisy, spacious world that mirrors the amorphous essence of the Outer Ring. Most songs feature heavy reverb and filter or layer Anderson’s voice, giving few tracks a clear center. It’s a simultaneously claustrophobic and endless field of sound. “It plays with scale — there’s a scale of the super miniature to the super big, and that musically is what I like,” Anderson says. “I’m obsessed with tiny sounds, with timing, whether it’s a little sample, the time in between things, a breath.” Other than a few synths and guitar lines, she played or programmed everything on the album herself. “I like long synth songs with a story about fucked-up suburban life,” she notes. “I feel like that’s my language that I put together and created, and I want to double down on it and keep doing it.”

Anderson has written about fucked-up suburban and rural life since at least 2007, when her former band Gowns released their only record, Red State, an unsettling chronicle of disassociation and drug abuse in the middle of America. And she’s written about the effects that technology, urbanization, and globalization have had on the middle and working classes since her first solo record, Past Life Martyred Saints, in 2011. These themes are not new territory for her, but have since November become an obsession of the commentariat. “It’s strange to have this album coming out now, because it was written a long time ago,” she says, “and I’m not trying to talk about politics a lot.”

Case in point: “Aryan Nation,” the track critics and listeners will likely latch onto as commentary, is almost three years old. “My filtering system, my artistic algorithm, if you will, actually works pretty slowly,” Anderson says. “It’s really good at kind of predicting the future by paying attention to what’s going on in the present.” So the song, written during the Obama presidency as pundits basked in a seemingly stable neoliberalism, actually reflects Anderson’s differing, dimmer view from the Outer Ring of a liberal, overwhelmingly white city that’s long been home to white supremacy and would eventually see a double murder committed in its name. “With ‘Aryan Nation’ I had many people advise me that the title was too extreme,” she says. “Given recent events, it’s almost not extreme enough.”

If people take anything political away from Exile, she says, it should be that things are more complex than we want to admit. “The record has skepticism of liberal culture being our savior, since it’s fine with capitalism,” says Anderson. “But advertising isn’t subversive, yuppies aren’t subversive. You can put that ‘Coexist’ bumper sticker on your car, but you’re also displacing people.” That’s why we might look instead to the Outer Ring, where the lines between rural and urban, educated and not, online and IRL, dissipate across the strip malls and box stores that increasingly define a national identity. “When I want to feel like being at home, I’ll go to a weird suburb and spend time in the familiar layout of a Target,” Anderson says. “That’s what feels like a neutral, nondenominational place. That’s the American experience.”

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Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield: ‘I Can’t Believe People Are Going To Hear This’

Katie Crutchfield is nervous. It’s a few weeks before the release of her new album, Out in the Storm, and the 28-year-old singer-songwriter — known for her deeply personal, candid work — is only beginning to come to terms with the fact that she’ll soon be sharing with the world the most unflinching and detailed record she’s ever made. As she puts it in the lead track, “Never Been Wrong,” “Everyone will hear me complain/Everyone will pity my pain.”

Over the past decade or so Crutchfield has played in a variety of upstart DIY bands that blend folkie intimacy with cascading electric guitars, often sharing the stage with her twin sister, Allison. Out in the Storm is her fourth release as Waxahatchee, and her second for the indie mainstay Merge Records. She’s long been celebrated for the emotional directness of her songwriting, which places a magnifying glass on her own flawed tendencies and relatable shortcomings. But Crutchfield has never put out a record quite so raw as her latest, which chronicles the dissolution of her long-term relationship in painful detail.

“I can’t believe people are going to hear this,” says Crutchfield, calling from her home in Philadelphia. “Every day I wake up, as we get closer and closer to putting the record out, and I’m like, ‘This is the best thing I’ve done.’ And then the next day, I’m like, ‘I can’t put this record out.’ ”

Waxahatchee’s music organizes conflicting emotions into something resembling clear-minded self-awareness. The first Waxahatchee album, 2012’s American Weekend, was a stark collection of acoustic songs that Crutchfield recorded in her family’s home in Alabama. “I don’t care if I’m too young to be unhappy,” she sang on “Grass Stain,” after promising to drink her way to happiness. She explored the self-destructive tendencies of twentysomethings stuck in slow-motion memories, establishing herself as indie rock’s sharpest self-scrutinizer in the process.

That self-scrutiny makes Out in the Storm all the more complicated. To help preserve some sanity, and privacy, while unveiling a piece of art as intensely detailed and single-mindedly focused as Out in the Storm, Crutchfield has set up some boundaries. She will talk about her new record at length, but the moment the real-world relationship that inspired her latest work comes up in conversation, she politely draws the line. “I have made it a very specific point not to get into any of that,” she says.

The pain of Out in the Storm feels as fresh as a newly skinned knee, but it took some time for Crutchfield to write songs she felt comfortable sharing with others. “I really tried to not write when I was in the middle of all this craziness at the end of that relationship, because when I did try to write while stuff was still going on, I was in such a state. I hadn’t fully processed a lot of things,” she says. The first songs Crutchfield came up with sounded like they were written by an “angsty fifteen-year-old girl.” They were “too earnest,” she says, “to the point where I felt uncomfortable putting them out in the world.”

In fact, there are still moments on the finished album (“Brass Beam,” parts of “No Question”) that give Crutchfield pause. “It’s just like, oof, there it is,” she says. That unadulterated openness is what resonates profoundly with an internet-raised generation eager to admit to “feeling all the feels,” and a growing fanbase that includes admirers like Sleater-Kinney, Lena Dunham, and Kurt Vile.

For Out in the Storm, her first full-length recorded with an outsider producer, Crutchfield reached out to John Agnello, who’s worked with artists like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth. “There’s a real backstory to these lyrics, and that might be why this record has such an edge to it,” says Agnello. “Katie was really motivated to go in a certain direction, and the talent and energy from her and her band was just incredible.”

The resulting record brims with heavy, fuzzed-out guitars and a bouncing Nineties melodicism interspersed with small moments of reflection. “Katie’s got a real knack at writing songs that are incredibly immediate but also have a scale to them that can be expansive,” says Katie Harkin, who played guitar and piano on the record. “She was so keyed into the meaning and identity of these songs.”

Out in the Storm renders an emotional palette with space for wisdom, peace, and clarity alongside more typical breakup-album ingredients like anger, hurt, and resentment. In several songs, Crutchfield finds solace in moments of escape: train rides to Berlin and road trips to Brooklyn provide precious space to reflect and collect. Throughout the record, each confession becomes a revelation, a way of making sense of herself as she leaves behind a dark stage of her life and enters a brighter future. Many of the songs conclude with Crutchfield literally moving on and walking away.

“All the things I learned from the American Weekend era have been thoroughly applied to my life now,” she says. “This record’s more about gracefully ending a relationship.” On “Sparks Fly,” Crutchfield needs only three words to sum up both the premise and the promise of her new LP: “A disaster, dignified.”

As a songwriter who faithfully documents different periods of her life in her art, Crutchfield says it’s comforting to have older music to look back on. She can track her progress — as an artist, as a songwriter, as an adult — by seeing how she’s dealt with various difficulties in her life in song. “The things I used to sing about now obviously feel so trivial. I feel like I’ve come so far and learned so much that what felt like such a big deal at the time now feels so small.”

And as nerve-racking as it may feel, at the moment, for Crutchfield to release such a personal statement, she’s confident that she’s faithfully documented this recent period. “I want to make a lot of records in my life,” she says. “So, hopefully, ten years from now I’ll look back on this record and feel like I don’t really know that person anymore, but I’ll be glad it’s there.”

An earlier version of this article speculated as to the relationship chronicled on Out in the Storm. Crutchfield, who does not confirm such speculation, objected, and declines to comment further.