Album Review: Girlpool, What Chaos Is Imaginary

Earlier this month, I was driving from Austin to a city deep in West Texas, on a country road where there’s absolutely nothing but the thick, potent smell of exhaust from old work trucks, hundreds of miles of farmland with hordes of goats and cattle, and, perhaps most attributed to this part of the state more than any other – the vast, endless expanse of sky directly above and in front of you, morphing and changing its vivid coloration every hour like some sort of living, breathing creature suspended and splayed out across the clouds.

What Chaos is Imaginary, which I listened to during the majority of my drive, became synonymous with this sky the more it played – for despite the subtle variation in genre and emotion as it went from track to track, still it seemed to evoke something completely and unabashedly genuine as a whole, to the point where I believe it is the best Girlpool album to date. This could also be due to best friends Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker’s incredibly thoughtful collaboration this time around, vastly different from years past. 

Okay, while I admittedly have minimal knowledge of Girlpool’s first two albums, I am aware of are the ways in which the Los Angeles duo shaped the diy genre back when they were still teenagers – the unique energy within the raw, stripped-down guitar and explosive vocals in 2015’s Before the World Was Big, the industrial nature of Powerplant after they brought in a drummer two years later. But things have changed considerably since then – graduating from high school and fully entering “the real world,” the ever-growing battle with mental health, and, perhaps most immediately discernible in WCII, Tucker’s recent transition and hormone replacement therapy, which has brought their voice down an octave. WCII also features each member’s solo work, which led to the album being composed of half Tividad songs, half Tucker songs, written and initially recorded separately in different cities rather than in stereo.

Despite the distance in which these songs were written, both members focus on the tumultuous evolution from youth to adult in their narratives, the sudden, violent shattering and careful reassembling of identity, the crippling loneliness and isolation that lurks behind and strikes during moments of weakness. And herein lies Girlpool’s immense strength in evoking emotion – for even without hearing albums one and two in full – without any context on anything, really – I could still feel the waves of vulnerability within WCII, personally and painfully so at times, to the point where I feel it truly deserves to be seen as its own, independent entity, the start of a brand new beginning for the duo in every sense of the word.


The search for identity and individuality resulted in tracks varying in sound, freely placing shoegaze next to pop punk, synth heavy goth rock next to sweeping orchestral ballads. It feels strangely cathartic, almost as if emotions were expelled the moment they were felt, no matter how personal, how intimate, how painful. The lyrics, though esoteric at times, are visceral, jagged, but still strangely beautiful and incredibly heavy in emotion – “Stale Device,” for instance, which touches on Tividad’s struggles with mental health, has her confessing at the guitar heavy breakdown that “the sickness kept me company/ I’m trying to be in the myth and in the thrill/ In a sharp malaise/ The shrillness of a life so still.” Meanwhile, “All Blacked Out” shows a soft side of Tucker, backed by velveteen guitar plucks, “slowly coming down from a midnight wish,” while at the end of “Hire” they opt for something far more physically purgative, both perfect ways to show off the range of their new voice.

The more jaunty, upbeat songs, ironically, are also the ones that deal with the more sensitive parts of self-esteem, how our own perception of ourselves can often be the most scathing. “Lucky Joke,” with its stylized guitar, has a melody you’re tempted to dance along with until Tividad’s lyrics kick in, while “Pretty,” arguably the catchiest song on the entire album, is essentially self-deprecation set to music – “I’m not the kid you like a lot,” “I’m not a dreamer in their prime,” “consistently not worth your time.” Tividad’s vocals are soft but pained – tired even – almost as if these independent phrases have been cruel mantras repeated over and over by her own subconscious. “You look pretty broken,” she realizes as the guitar falls away, a brief moment of clarity within the noise.


And, like clockwork, the album breathlessly flowed into the title track just as my particular sky was leaning into sunset, Tividad’s vocals dissolving into the dying orange crush that hid behind the clouds, emerging and turning into a brazen purple just as the orchestral interludes wandered in after the chorus. I had heard it once before, but not like this – I listened and stared ahead as the sky calmly and perfectly raged in front of me, tears pricking greedily at the corners of my eyes.

“Got your head in the clouds/ And two eyes on the shaking ground”

While I may be at a particularly vulnerable point in my early twenties where I can deeply relate or at least empathize with some of her sentiments, I cannot be alone in saying that there was something within this poetic, visceral narrative that plunged deep into my heart like a dagger and deliberately twisted the hilt, as if it was composed of my own sentiments, my own thoughts – I knew immediately that it was one of those songs, so full of substance and empathy that anyone listening could find some sort of peace somewhere within it, adjacent to the violins, somewhere underneath the swells of choral synth. I knew it was one of those albums, representative of something more – more in the sense of what’s inexplicable, the ways emotion can multiply and blend into each other until you’re left with a blurry image, the irony of feeling too much and yet still feeling numb, empty, too recklessly far into an altered reality we make up for ourselves.

This is an incredibly personal track for Tividad, which she explained in a post on her instagram:

[“What Chaos Is Imaginary”] is a song I wrote at the most vulnerable point I have ever had thus far in my life. I was living very far from “home” and not taking the best care of myself on any level. No matter what I did, I was getting into situations that were emotionally, spiritually, and physically putting me at some type of risk. These situations culminated in me having horrific PTSD (I didn’t realize it was this until long after) during which I found it completely impossible to imagine living beyond the time I was in. The “present moment” was impossible to even begin to participate in – there was very nearly a white noise over all interactions and I couldn’t focus in any social situations unless I somehow found a way to be in my wrong mind. This song is about reckoning with this – trying to find a path to forgiving myself, attempts to redevelop a relationship with the world where I could find some illusion of “safety” and belief in the fact that I could ultimately care for myself. It’s about self-healing and learning to believe in inner light in spite of anything else.”


Much like the sky – its violent, raging sunsets, the calmness of its resulting, beautifully inevitable sunrises – What Chaos is Imaginary is reliable, perhaps initially painful but then soon reveals itself to be something akin to a medicinal salve – pain and vulnerability in the background, self-healing and forgiveness at the forefront. But, aside from my now probably overused metaphors, this album is absolutely beautiful. It highlights not only the frustrations that come with change, but the amount we grow as a result, taking in peace as well as the chaos.

9.0/10

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photo by Gina Canavan
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Margot – “Coffee Stained Scars”

Each song Margot shares brings their music closer to the very embodiment of empathy. The London quintet not only looks within while crafting their narratives, but also pays special attention to the world around them – they possess a sharp eye for detail, an effortless ability to look just a little bit deeper into what is just as easily ignored. Everything from an internal struggle with society’s idea of masculinity to a frustrated, melancholic conversation heard on the subway between two strangers can easily become songs, songs where emotion exists not only in the narrative, but also embedded within the vocals and instrumentals, both often times so fluid and graceful that they deserve to be listened to with the same intent and thoughtfulness as they were conceived.

Margot’s recent fifth single “Coffee Stained Scars,” released back in December, is an absolutely beautiful example of their emphatic nature – the narrative, though sung by vocalist Alex Hannaway, is actually in the perspective of two other people, which he explained in detail to Atwood Magazine:

“‘Coffee Stained Scars’ is a middle-aged man’s wet-traffic-ridden journey and his partner’s anxiety regarding his mental fortitude. I’ve had experiences with adults of that age stoically withholding information in regards to their mental health, and I’ve seen how this can affect friends and family. It’s desperation.”

The most poignant moments of the track feature this desperation; his partner, frustrated from their lack of time and yet fueled by their perpetual desire in wanting to help the one they love in spite of their reality shaped by neverending drives “from work to home,” pleads “I’m asking for answers/ How can I tell?” They repeat in a pained, almost nervous manner that “we’ll go on a holiday/ Get a little time away/ I’ll tell him how I feel/ When he’s behind the wheel.” It is a heartbreaking handful of lines – the long awaited moment of emotional intimacy doesn’t even end up being face to face. Despite the disappointment, however, the instrumentals remain steady and consistent, an indication that they’re not about to give up:

“It’s unconditional love, a hope that things can turn around.”

“Coffee Stained Scars” now has a beautiful accompanying music video, directed by Sam Hooper. Watch it below.

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photo courtesy of artist

Field Medic – “Henna Tattoo”

The first thing you’re bound to notice about Field Medic’s music is how lo-fi it is, but the second, however, has to be how Kevin Patrick is able to pull it off so beautifully. The Los Angeles artist’s unique sound, self-described as “freak folk,” has a far off, wistful feeling, textured not only from the nature of his instrumentals and the near-tangible emotion present in his voice, but also as a result of the manner in which it was recorded – the hazy static radiating from the guitar of “Henna Tattoo,” the first single from his upcoming album Fade Into the Dawn, was due to Patrick directly recording it to a four-track tape recorder while backed by a boom box drum machine.

The minimal arrangement allows Patrick’s voice to pierce through the gauze, where he delivers a gorgeous narrative on love (“your eyes close slow like/ poppies in starlight”) and the lack thereof (jealousy sinking in/ seeing you seeing him”). There’s a hesitation present within the guitar strums, a ruinous shyness that nestles within his words.

“It’s a song about being afraid to speak up for fear of what the truth might be. So instead you remain in a state of unease & anxiety, because at least perpetual uncertainty isn’t as bad as the imagined worst case scenario.”

The upcoming album will ultimately be a way for Patrick to work through emotions felt after a series of changes in his life, “blending black humor and bold introspection” in order to give his most realized work to date. As far as his writing and recording process, Patrick explained it was closer to an out of body experience:

“I had to learn to let go again, because the best songs are the ones that happen inexplicably, that feel like they come out of me almost against my will.”

Fade Into the Dawn will be released on April 19th via Run For Cover Records.

 

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photo by Gabby Salinardo

Five Years

Last week, kid with a vinyl turned five years old.

Sentimentality always seems to come with its own inescapable cliches, I suppose, but I honestly do remember where I was when I wrote my first ever post, back in 2014: I was in my room in my aunt’s house where I lived during my first year of college, while procrastinating an assignment for my biology class. Speaking of sentimentality, what I ended up writing about was the very first song I remember hearing when I was little – Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” And, much like the first slew of posts over the next year, it was not as eloquent as I thought it was at the time, but looking back, I was so happy just to be writing again, a hobby I have been passionate about all my life but one that had been slowly put aside as I grew up, in order to focus on school.

Needless to say, it was a win-win situation – I got to look for and write about music whenever I wanted, and I got to briefly get away from the degree I was pursuing at the time, which was the opposite from anything creative. I was taking classes full-time and working part-time at the campus radio station, and even after I mustered up the courage to switch my major to English and took extra hours in the semester, virtually every other waking moment went into running the blog, and it’s stayed that way for the past five years. When I started doing album reviews in 2015, I remember I would go to the library after class every Friday and refused to go home until whatever review I was working on that week was written and posted. It became such a nice routine that grew more natural the more I did it, and, to this day, every time I open my notebook, or write a post, or do research for the site, I find myself feeling fulfilled, essential, valued, feelings I honestly do not get from anything else. I love devoting myself to music, making sense of it and the world in which it exists through writing, to understand an artist or musician’s perspective, their inspirations.

Though I still try to make it seem like we’re an entire team over here at kid with a vinyl, inc., I assure you it’s really just me, sitting alone at my computer late at night and early in the morning, filling up journal after journal with bulleted notes (if I’ve posted about a song on here, trust me, its in a journal somewhere) and although its had its ups and downs over the years like any other project, I’ve absolutely loved every single moment of it. There is a part of me that wishes that I did more, but I think I need to remember that I was also obligated to other things. Maybe in the future this will turn into something bigger, something I can spend the majority of my time on – but even if it doesn’t, I will always be so, so proud of it.

Kid with a vinyl gifted me a way to not only to fulfill a passion I’ve had since I was little, but to get better at it through practice and dedication. It has allowed me to get my foot further in the door for other opportunities, and it has helped me immensely with communication and social interaction, the latter of which being absolutely invaluable to me as a shy person by nature. As the cherry on top, I’ve been able to make a few friendly acquaintances in the process too, which I never thought would happen. Y’all are so incredibly talented.

Thank you for your support over these past five years. I truly appreciate it. I think I’ve got another five years in me, easy. 

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EP Review: a. harlana, ada belle

Every word that Juno Roome communicates as a. harlana is laden with such tender thoughtfulness, each phrase he sings lingering over his instrumentals in a way both gossamer and visceral – akin to dust particles caught in the crossfire of sunlight that filters in through bedroom windows, plumes of smoke that longingly hover over a fire hastily put out with ice water. The NY artist’s entire repertoire is a beautiful contradiction; When sung, Roome’s beautifully written narratives float breathlessly into the ether, but, on paper, appear stark, immovable, permanently weighed down by the pain and yearning that comes complimentary with love. His debut EP ada belle, released just a week and a half ago, expresses this in just three tracks.

Structurally, ada belle simulates an emotional, lovelorn night that slowly stretches into day – its most cathartic track, reminiscent of the emotions felt exclusively in more tender, introspective hours, opens the EP, and its most palliative, most expressive of morning clarity, ends it. The former is, of course, the sensual, somber ballad “Textile Workers,” where lush swells of guitar flood in and pool around Roome’s voice, infatuated and bitter as he calls out to someone that not only often occupies the space next to him, but also spends ample time in the arms of another. He laments that his “arms wrap around [her] body,” only for her to take that enamored feeling “to the bed of [her] man” later – Roome touches on the toxic nature of their relationship in the chorus, where he asks “can’t you see that it’s all poured out?” The instrumental closing hints he spends the rest of the night alone, deep within his thoughts.

“Faces,” slowly but surely, evolves from this quiet, introspective longing to something closer to a heartbreaking, yet necessary epiphany, where Roome admits in the murky afterglow of disappointment that though “I’ve never missed my wants/ and every vice of mine,” “I can’t seem to will/ your face next to mine.” Soon after, the track expands to let in more of the moonlight in, taking the form of Roome’s layered oohs and hopeful, steady percussion, growing more full-bodied as it reaches some sort of acceptance. And, true to earlier metaphor, ada belle closes with “The Thunderings Are Nearly Through,” a tender instrumental that feels like the musical equivalent to a much needed rest after a long period of strife – bright guitar melodies overlap and intermingle, synths wander in and swell, only to be cut off by a meticulous, crystalline guitar melody, reminiscent of a rising sun, a new beginning.

The atmospheric nature of a. harlana’s music is close to clandestine, and gorgeously so – even at its most cathartic and extroverted moments, you get the sense that there’s something mysterious perpetually within the instrumentals somewhere, a secret that reveals itself a little more with every trying life experience or moment of lovesickness the listener goes through. a. harlana is music that encapsulates, heals, purifies – it is music that grows with you.

10/10

 

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photo courtesy of artist

Angelo De Augustine – “Wanderer”

In the past, Angelo De Augustine’s hauntingly unique voice has more or less stayed homogeneous with his instrumentals – hazy and gauzy, just blissfully out of reach, almost as if he were behind a sun bleached, tattered screen door beckoning to us from the outside. And, true to its name, his latest album Tomb is the exact opposite, perhaps as a result of it being his first album recorded in a studio; His voice is crystal clear, a touch louder than everything else, intimate in a different sense, reverberating freely above these same delicate melodies. In this vein, his voice evokes a tender feeling of immediacy that the album as a whole seems to embody:

“[Tomb] is a motion towards positivity, addressing lost love, the worthwhile cost of honesty, and the ramifications, of regret. In the end…it isn’t about burying or hiding something away, it’s about opening the seal and letting something new emerge. It’s about telling people how you feel when you feel it, instead of burying everything over the span of years.”

Among these gorgeous tracks, including the lovesick ballad “Kaitlin” and the heartbreaking, bitter, yet apologetic “You Needed Love, I Needed You,” there was something about “Wanderer” that kept me coming back to it, perhaps again due to these near four dimensional vocals – but, as I listen while I write this, it is probably due to the nuances within the narrative; Strewn throughout is a sense of infatuation and self-deprecation (“Who you running from?/ It can’t be me ‘cause I’m no one”) while its enamored imagery (“Turtle dove/ Carried my love/ And left it on the moon to shine”; “Wanderer/ Labyrinthine fern/ Planted in your dilated mind”) enhance the delicacy until it threatens to float into the ether. 

“This album is, at its core, a prayer for hope and clarity, and a prayer for love.”

Tomb is out now via Asthmatic Kitty Records.

 

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photo courtesy of artist

Weyes Blood – “Andromeda”

Natalie Mering’s last album as Weyes Blood was not only lost in time but gorgeously lost in space – the wistfully starry-eyed, ‘70’s tinged synths and the hauntingly echoed vocals that graced every track simulated the excitement and wonder of venturing into the unknown, but with moments of eerie, chaotic intimacy that flawlessly matched the accompanying loneliness and alienation embedded in her signature poetic narratives. Now, more than two years after the absolutely beautiful Front Row Seat to Earth, Mering has shared the equally atmospheric ballad “Andromeda,” the first new tease to her upcoming album, due later this spring via Sub Pop records. Most arresting, aside from Mering’s impassioned, vibrato heavy vocals, is the wistful melody of the slide guitar after each verse, piercing through the gauze of synth like an arrow through the clouds.

“[“Andromeda”] is ultimately a love song about finding something long-lasting in an ever-changing world full of distractions, unrealistic expectations, and past disappointments.”

Mering answers these past disappointments with confidence in herself, singing in the last verse “love is calling/ It’s time to give to you/ Something you can hold onto/ I dare you to try,” closing again with that magically versatile guitar melody, somehow far more hopeful than before.

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photo courtesy of artist

Album Review: Lab Partner, Century Neet

Much like the cover art of Century Neet, Jiles Beaver’s sophomore album as Lab Partner, each component within it works together to simulate the layering of paint on canvas, in each of its tracks a tonally different, yet equally striking portrait of sanguine melancholy that slowly emerges from each meticulous brush stroke.

This meticulousness seems to be a vital part of Beaver’s creative process, ever present in his confessional compositions and his enamored, esoteric narratives, the sentiment especially solidified after hearing Lab Partner’s debut I Fret, released this past July. Beaver mentioned that I Fret was an album made “out of necessity,” meant to help him work through overwhelming emotions and insecurities. In this regard, I Fret was an example of the quintessential debut in that it portrayed what it set out to portray in spite of its supposed imperfections from his believed lack of technical skill (comical, considering Beaver writes, records, and produces everything in both his debut and sophomore album). In fact, these constantly tangled and haphazard expulsions of emotion simultaneously seemed to house incredibly powerful, vivid moments of transparency that highlighted rare, but wonderful moments of victory over pain, and, perhaps more apparent now within his recent sophomore album, the role that art, music, and verse has in dealing with the more trying nuances of life. Beaver’s reliance to craft shows in the last few lines of the literal poetic description he provides for Century Neet, where he asks:

“Why does it take me so long,

To close the blinds and count the wrongs?

When all governs me to move on,

I’ll simply write a song.”

In this vein, this album seems to be a direct continuation of the ideas presented in I Fret, and, maybe as a result of its clear improved organization and orchestration, the songs that appear feel darker, heavier, lived in, perhaps closer to what Beaver wished to achieve the first time around –  melancholy in vignettes, corners dimmed, drawing your eyes to the hopeful, inquisitive heart that protrudes in the center, continuing to beat despite how tattered or faded it appears on paper.

At least this is what came to mind after hearing the soul bearing, cathartic track “Truths to Better Times,” a complex, textured ballad somber aesthetically but bright in the way Beaver addresses himself and his audience, as well as the hauntingly gorgeous, guitar heavy “Jitter,” a track touching on the ability of anxiety to affect us physically. “Jitter” slyly changes from third to first person perspective towards the end, further hinting at the scintillating overall confessional aura that exudes not only from these two tracks but from the album as a whole – softer tracks like the colorful “Ferry Back to Stockholm” and the gorgeously sung “Hum” do this as well as show Beaver’s range as an artist, able to narrate infatuation as well as introspection.

Also nestled within the lines of the album’s poetic bio is the slight admittance of guilt for allowing art to offer him sanctuary for too long, a crutch to lean on – the  soul bearing track “The Old Red Carpet Is Out” has him lamenting on allowing himself to remain trapped in his own destructive habits (“Is it wrong to have never tried/ When it’s been sprawled throughout my life?/ Well, there’s always tomorrow after another goodnight/ But what good is a tomorrow when I know I’ll lose the fight?”). And yet, in adhering to the aforementioned vignette metaphor, every diaristic track, every admittance of guilt, every confession of weakness that exists in these narratives work together to push us towards “Godspeed,” where Beaver tells us that “something’s sparked since” the events that transpired these past thirty some odd tracks, and that he now stares at his once avoided reflection with “hope in [his] chest,” bidding farewell to the person he once was.

Often, the path to acceptance looks like an abstract painting: emotions that come complimentary with trying life experiences can take the form of paint dragged against the grain of the canvas, poured in puddles that drip to the floor, splattered violently from corner to corner. And while they may look out of place at the moment they are added or conceived, valueless to the current image, if taken in stride, these paint marks, these components of melancholy, soon ironically begin to form an image of resilience.

9.0/10

 

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photo courtesy of artist

Foxwarren – “Fall Into a Dream”

More than two years after the brilliant sophomore album The Party, Andy Shauf returned late last year as part of the folk group Foxwarren, performing with hometown friends Dallas Bryson and brothers Avery and Darryl Kissick. While there are distinct similarities to Shauf’s solo work, there was enough within this self-titled album to suggest equal and masterful collaboration, housing the casual energy of a jam session between friends rather than professional musicians, which makes sense considering they’ve technically been a band for more than ten years. Citing Paul Simon as a main influence for the album, Foxwarren features 70’s inspired compositions and honeyed croons within its ten beautiful songs, tracks like “Fall Into a Dream” showing their abilities for meticulous orchestration as well as their range, changing from a soft ballad to a psychedelic tinged guitar heavy track right at the midway point. Shauf’s vocals, bittersweet and earnest against the jauntiness of the melodies and the later bouts of distorted guitar, urges his subject that “if you fall into a dream/ forget about me,” the little pocket of hope in his voice that they will both find happiness without each other, perhaps exclusively so. It’s wistful and yet so structurally fascinating due to its sudden mood change in the center, and one of the many tracks that kept me happily guessing within the entirety of Foxwarren.

 

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Elder – “Sun Movement”

Brisbane group Elder – composed of vocalist and guitarist Matt Burton, bassist Thomas White, and drummer Talia Bond – released their stunning debut EP Cyril this past December, a scintillating, fervid handful of tracks housing structurally complex melodies and an irresistible cathartic, unhinged energy that never seems to falter. This energy  is so pronounced that just listening evokes the same aura as being at a live show, and they oscillate between jangle pop and post punk almost equally; White’s bass in “Squatter’s Daydream” and “Vagabond” feels almost tangible, while Burton’s bright, jagged vocals pierce through the dark murkiness with utmost ease. And yet, we kept coming back to closer “Sun Movement” due to its simultaneous softness and coarseness, the repeated, mantra like vocals that dissolve into haunting croons towards the end. Elder’s unique brand of indie pop is something that will no doubt continue to flourish, and we can’t wait to hear what they do this year.

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photo courtesy of artist