[You can hear Stephen’s music here and here.]
It’s not revelatory to say that the temptation to retreat into a continual state of abject escapism is very real these days. Ever mindful of the ease with which I can retreat or escape, I’m endeavoring to subvert that urge inter-personally, politically, and emotionally — all with varying degrees of success. Music continues, for me, to act as not an escape, but as a call for something greater within myself and the world which I inhabit. It also serves to challenge my expectations, show me the truth of the souls that share their musical gifts, and reinforce my own need to continue to do the work required to dismantle the unjust and often, false doctrines I was raised with. These albums are recent favorites and perennial stalwarts that are helping to light my way.
As a long-time fan of Steve Albini it’s unsurprising that I would purchase Music from the film Girl on the Third Floor. That said, Albini is only one piece of the ensemble. Alison Chesley (stage name Helen Money, also a founding member of Verbow) has knocked me out each time I have had the good fortune to see her open for Shellac, and her performances and contributions here are incredible. Gaelynn Lea also makes an appearance as vocalist on the LP’s longest and most ambitious track. Her vocals are arresting, contain a purity I lack the vocabulary to describe, and demand repeated listens. And finally there is Tim Midyett of Silkworm, Bottomless Pit, and more recently Mint Mile whose bass, baritone guitar and Vibrachime all act as steady anchors to the moody, spacious and contemplative tunes. I haven’t watched the film yet. I plan to, but I want to live with these tunes for a while longer first.
And speaking of living with tunes, Espiritu Zombi by The Eternals/Espiritu Zombi Group, is a record I was not ready for when my host here, Zach Barocas, gave me a copy. Much like Zach’s insistent beats have propelled me to places I thought I was ill-equipped or unprepared for, this record has, and continues to challenge my preconceptions about what music is and what it does to us. This LP is emotionally heavy, uplifting, and ambitious in ways that I’m still working out four years later. I get stuck in creative ruts just like any person struggling to make art and I return to this record to help me push through, it has yet to fail me. One favorite moment is the chorus of “Blackout!,” “Moved to do the things you do / Like someone’s coming after you / Monsters are cruel / Don’t let them fool… you.” Yes they are, and they are plentiful these days.
Continuing that thread, Hold On To Yourself by Friendship Commanders is an unrelenting and unflinching shot of fury aimed at abusers. In the tune “Among Monsters,” Buick Audra asks if she lives among monsters, shares her feelings of fear, then asks us if we can imagine a world where we feel no pain. These days I find myself asking those same questions more often than I’d like. Knowing I’m not contending with them alone gives me some solace. I love this record for it’s viciousness (Buick’s guitar playing & vocals, and Jerry’s drumming), but especially for its vulnerability. The final track, “July’s Revelations,” is the kind of tune I wish I was brave enough to attempt myself. If that’s not inspiration, I’m not sure what is.
Sing What Scares You by Trophy Wife has been in heavy rotation lately partly because of the message on the lyric sheet insert: Sing what scares you, ok? It’s a message I’m trying to remember for myself. The other reason I am playing this over and over is that Diane Foglizzo and Katy Otto write incredible songs that are equal parts fury and sensitivity. They touch upon themes of autonomy, setting boundaries, love/loss all while serving it up with heavy guitar, raw vocals, and some of my favorite drumming. Years after sharing stages with them, and hearing the tune “Identifiers” several times in those settings, I still get chills when Diane sings: “Take flight from this world / In your skin you’ll be born again.”
Years by Criteria has become a regular staple in my weekly running routine. It’s loud, unapologetically anthemic rock music. It’s the kind of music that can elicit (in a lot of fratty-looking white men especially) fist pumping, singing along (off-key) and a kind of jockishness that on the whole I abhor. That is, if any of those kinds of people will readily tolerate tunes in 6/8 and refrains of “Break away / Before you break me down / Down like an enzyme it won’t be the first time” or “We want world Peace / We want it right away”. It’s funny to me that even when I’m trying to “loosen up” and “just play some feel-good music” while I run, there are still some heavy themes wrapped around kick-ass guitar riffs, killer drums, and catchy vocals. Oh well.
Do I even need to talk about Coriky? I hesitated to include this here, but decided I absolutely should because it’s a record that speaks directly to my quest for reaffirming alliances, shoring up the walls of my psyche, and taking stock of the ways in which I have progressed and the ways in which I have been lulled into complacency. Do I need to tell you how great Amy Farina’s drumming and vocals are? Do I need to tell you that Joe Lally’s bass playing is still phenomenal? Do we really need to hear more about Ian MacKaye’s uncanny ability to write a super catchy chorus? And that it’s a song about a drone pilot? Maybe I don’t need to tell you all those things, but I kinda did anyway, and that’s the game I’m playing with myself lately too. What am I doing? What do I believe in? Where have I fallen short? How can I help? If not now, when?