Tag Archives: Indie Rock

Waxahatchee: The Journeywoman Becomes The Master

Waxahatchee

Photo by Jesse Riggins.

Before we arrive at the West Philadelphia home of Katie Crutchfield, aka Waxahatchee, her twin sister and musician Allison Crutchfield (who is driving me), takes a detour down a tree-lined street three minutes from Katie’s rowhouse. She points to a modest, time-worn Victorian—the twins’ one-time residence which doubled as a recording space for Waxahatchee, Swearin’ (Allison’s former band), and other music projects. “All of those albums were made right there,” she says proudly, letting the memories hover.

Once we settle in, Katie and I sit across from each other on a couch in the front room: a small, cozy space flanked by bookshelves and guitars (including the acoustic she strummed as a kid). No matter which direction you look, you’ll spot something eye-catching: a gallery’s worth of paintings and cross-stitches on the walls, nearly all of which depict dogs; Beatles posters on all the doors (John Lennon watches over the main entrance, while George Harrison guards the artist’s room); a keyboard over in the corner, just in case an idea pops up.

Just like Waxahatchee’s music, Katie’s décor tells a story: a nebulous, intense, and unabashedly intimate narrative, which taps into her personal past as a means of expressing the present, or even the future. Her heart-wrenching breakup songs represent moments suspended in time, close to the heart, but kept at arm’s length. Given the tortured, quaking voice through which she conjures her old pain onstage, it’s no surprise that some fans and critics remain oblivious to this conceit. Importantly, it establishes distance between the woman named Katie Crutchfield and the artist known as Waxahatchee.

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Japanese Breakfast Finds Human Intimacy on “Another Planet”

japanesebreakfast_by-Colin-Hughes_600-5

Photos by Collin Hughes

Michelle Zauner first introduced the arrival of Japanese Breakfast’s sophomore LP, Soft Sounds From Another Planet, with a short, mysterious video that hinted at an intergalactic theme. Fittingly, she had initially set out to write a sci-fi concept album about a woman who, after falling in love with a robot and experiencing heartbreak, enlists in the Mars One project.

The plan only carried through to the lead single, “Machinist,” but the theme of exploring the great beyond prevails throughout the album. The concept allowed Zauner to play with new elements that vastly differ from her punk roots in Little Big League; throughout the record, autotune and synthesizers create an otherworldly ambience. Even the re-worked version of a Little Big League song, “Boyish,” sounds like something entirely new.

What started as a fantastic theme gradually became a metaphor for the fear of death. Zauner explores that idea in full on “Till Death,” a hauntingly beautiful song that details the aftermath of losing someone dear: “Haunted dreams / Stages of grief / Repressed memories / Anger and bargaining.” On her debut as Japanese Breakfast, Psychopomp, Zauner grappled with losing her mother to cancer. Now, on Soft Sounds, she reflects on the person she’s become, after surviving through the pain.

We spoke to Zauner about her new album, the initial concept behind it, her songwriting, and the influence of Mount Eerie on her music.

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Rozwell Kid Explore the Profundity of the Mundane

Rozwell Kid

Photo by Emily Dubin.

Jordan Hudkins, the frontman for West Virginia band Rozwell Kid, is sitting at a lengthy wooden table, flanked by bassist Devin Donnelly, drummer Sean Hallock, and guitarist Adam Meisterhans. He’s been busy putting up a series of gig advertisements on his Instagram page. All of them are obnoxiously-watermarked photos of different dogs wearing headphones and looking at laptops, with the show details pasted crudely on top. “Do you want to see the picture I made for tonight’s show?” he asks me at one point. “This dog is reading a newspaper article he is not happy about,” he reasons. “‘The tax on dog bones is going up.’” His bandmates chuckle uncontrollably.

Meisterhans turns to me with a grin: “Are you enjoying the peek behind the curtain?”

Rozwell Kid

The band has reason to be giddy. Their sophomore full-length, Precious Art, on California label SideOneDummy has been a long-time coming, and it’s tied up in a bit of personal history for Hudkins. The first rock show he ever attended was Suicide Machines on the tour for their album A Match And Some Gasoline—which was also released by SideOneDummy. The circularity is fitting; Precious Art is a record on which Hudkins often revisits and recontextualizes his childhood.

Lyrically, Precious Art addresses adolescent anxiety, growing up, friendship, displacement, and heartbreak, but it’s littered with references to MadTV, futons, boogers, and Michael Keaton’s turn as Batman in the 1989 film. Hudkins writes in relatable specifics; he repurposes unremarkable objects or pop culture touchstones as vehicles for conveying grand human emotion. At first pass, the songs scan as humorous, and while that’s not entirely untrue, they also highlight the fact that humans are socialized to express serious matters in self-deprecating ways. When we hear these goofy references as genuine, sincere sentiments, we open ourselves to understanding different ways of getting at emotional truths. Is it just a cute photo of a dog, or is he mad about the impending bone tax?

After we finish our coffees, we head over to Everybody Hits, a Girard Avenue institution. Though it’s mostly occupied by batting cages, Everybody Hits also hosts shows. (Hallock, who lives close by, says that he played bass in a No Doubt cover band here.) The owner’s dog is sprawled on a picnic table in front of the cages, and Hudkins asks his bandmates which bat he should use. He runs his fingers over the helmets hanging on the fence, and takes pictures of the guys at bat. Revisiting one’s childhood, indeed.

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Roya’s Crisp, Swaggering Indie Rock Examines a World on the Brink

Roya

Released earlier this month by Burger Records, Roya’s self-titled full-length debut features 11 songs powered by taut, chugging guitars, the crisp drumming of Hamish Kilgour of The Clean, and Rahill Jamalifard’s coolly-detached vocals. Though its roots are in garage rock and the steady bop of late ‘50 rock ‘n’ roll, Jamalifard’s lyrics are set squarely in the now. Spurred on by the political climate both in the U.S. as well as in the world at large, Jamalifard writes songs that explore the upside of apathy (“Scum Rise”), toxic relationships (“Rich Kid”), and the pitfalls of capitalism (“End Times”). The album was recorded at the former Brooklyn DIY venue Death by Audio just weeks before it was razed to make room for the offices of Vice.

We spoke with Jamalifard about her experience as a translator during the travel ban, coping strategies in the face of mass injustice, and her love for the series Master of None.
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Album of the Day: Big Thief, “Capacity”

Adrianne Lenker’s music is an engaging diary of her hardscrabble life, from her candid lyrics to the personal photographs that grace her albums. On the cover of her new release, Capacity, with her band Big Thief, Lenker’s uncle holds her as an infant. His piercing stare correlates tangentially with lyrics from “Mythological Beauty,” her most straightforwardly autobiographical song to date. “I have an older brother I don’t know / He could be anywhere.” She casts outward, hoping for a reconnection that grows more distant with each passing day.

On a recent interview for the NPR All Songs Considered podcast, Lenker speaks to host Bob Boilen on how making music assists with her coming to terms with the past: “I feel like my capacity for loving and understanding who I am, where I come from, my family…is always growing through the songs.” This is a distinct progression from Masterpiece, Big Thief’s first LP that largely presented her ruminations on unique people (“Paul,” “Lorraine,” “Randy”), places (“Vegas,” “Interstate”), and entities (“Humans,” “Animals”). No longer sufficed by one-step-back storytelling, Lenker takes on the demanding process of revisiting her childhood on Capacity, but chooses to meet the painful moments with a emotional strength born from empathy.

The bracing manner of her retelling an assault on “Watering” finds her regaining control over trauma. Elements of mortality appear throughout: tears, blood, oxygen, skin, sexual fluids. Lenker’s perspective changes from storyteller to active participant, speaking as her present self: “And you know that I’m there / As you soak in my stare.” As “Watering” finishes on a tender note, Lenker relieves her younger self of the pain and guilt that has festered for too long.

Big Thief attunes their music to fit the finer details, as on “Shark Smile,” where a harrowing tale of losing someone in a car accident is met with classic rock gravitas. The entire song plays like The River-era Springsteen, sparking with the insistent riffs of a midnight road trip as Lenker’s escapism runs into reality: “It came over me at a bad time / She burned over the double line / And she impaled as I reached my hand for the guardrail.” Her last lines spark with a hint of regret, but abruptly let go with the track’s hard stop.

As the album concludes its excavation of Lenker’s past, the atmosphere on the later songs becomes solitary and therapeutic. The necessary determination of electric guitars and painful recollections dissolve into acoustic instruments, subtle rhythms, and meditative serenity. Accented by organ hum and solo piano, the chorus on “Mary” works as a focused mantra, sweeping away bitter remnants with lilting elegance.  For the whole of Capacity, Lenker and Big Thief firmly take the wheel of each song’s narrative, spinning together threads of memories and events, weaving them into newfound empowerment.

—Matt Voracek