Tag Archives: Story of a Song

Story of a Song: Strange Relations, “Maria Sweet”

Strange Relations

Mainstream music’s recurring “sugar” trope has a history stretching back almost as far as the genre itself, with a stylistic range extending wide enough to include hits like The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” or Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop.” For those in need of a generous fix, the music blog The Grey Estates and Negative Fun Records recently announced plans to release Sugar Rush 2, an aspartame-free compilation of previously unreleased songs with a sticky-sweet bent.

The collection’s first single is a rousing two-minute blast from Minneapolis’s Strange Relations. Its two principal musicians—singer/songwriter/drummer Casey Sowa and singer/bassist Maro Helgeson—formed the group in 2013 after relocating from Philadelphia. They self-released their first full-length before signing to Tiny Engines in 2016.

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Amirtha Kidambi’s Visceral Ode to Eric Garner

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Amirtha Kidambi with her band, the Elder Ones. Photo by Chris Weiss.

In July 2014, vocalist Amirtha Kidambi was working alone in her practice studio, scrolling through social media. She stopped when she hit the now-infamous video of Eric Garner’s death, in which New York City police officers choked the man until he couldn’t breathe. “I was just fiddling around with my phone on a break from singing, and came across it on Facebook,” Kidambi recalls. “That was just such an intense moment.”

“I had some awareness of the tensions between the police and people of color,” she continues. “Like, my dad, whenever he would get pulled over—it was the most unbearably condescending and sort of unnecessarily demeaning experience. And then anecdotally from friends of mine who are black, [I knew] that it is part of a daily experience. So you kind of hear about it, but I don’t think it hit me what it really was. And I think that was true for the national consciousness.”

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Story of a Song: Them Are Us Too, “Angelene”

Cash Askew from Them Are Us Too. Photo by Kristin Cofer.

Cash Askew from Them Are Us Too. Photo by Kristin Cofer.

“Why won’t you speak to me, love?”

This is the simple question that drives “Angelene,” the devastating swan song from California dream-pop duo Them Are Us Too. The song was released last week via Oakland music collective Scream Queens in the wake of the sudden death of one-half of that duo, guitarist and sonic sorceress Cash Askew, in the Ghost Ship fire. In a strange twist of fate, a song that was never meant to be became the band’s final statement.

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On “Consciousness,” Joy Postell Reflects on Oppression While Offering Hope

Joy Postell

Joy Postell. Photograph by Audrey Gatewood.

Shortly after graduating from high school in 2010, the singer and emcee Joy Postell left her home in Baltimore for the uncharted territory of Los Angeles. There, she found work in a series of medical cannabis dispensaries. “I figured that would be the flyest thing in the world,” she says with a laugh. “I wanted to be a budtender.” Postell’s new occupation had a dual effect on the way she perceived cannabis. On the one hand, she learned about the plant’s various medicinal attributes, particularly its effectiveness in combating migraines and epilepsy. “It’s literally a gift from mother nature,” she says. But she also saw how it could be used as a means of escape.

One of her regular patients was a talented visual artist who often brought his psychedelic paintings to the dispensary. “I knew he was struggling, but somehow, every day he would come into the shop and found that 10 dollars, 20 dollars to spend on weed,” she says. Her interactions with the artist, who she saw as “perpetuating a very negative cycle,” became the kernel of inspiration—and eventually the chorus—to her gripping new song, “Consciousness”: “Now where is this consciousness you speak of / Is it hidden in the reefer?” she asks, delivering the words in a captivating cadence against a beat that evokes both the jaunty bounce of Timbaland and the staccato rhythm of a military march. “I’m trolling folks on that hook,” Postell points out. “I feel like sometimes we think altering our mind state helps us achieve this consciousness, [but I believe] it’s achieved in a sober mind.” “Consciousness” isn’t an anti-drug anthem, per se, but it is a song about striving for self-awareness and self-love. That message is laced through with allusions to the history of oppression facing black people in America; its strength and complexity is drawn from the agile way it blends anguish and anger with the dream of a better tomorrow.

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How Brazil’s Political Protests Inspired Luisa Maita’s “Fio de Memoria”

Luísa Maita
Luísa Maita. Photo by Julia Braga.

On a mild São Paolo evening in June 2013, a raucous protest against corruption in the Brazilian government exploded, seemingly out of nowhere. As word began to spread across social media, people of all ages came pouring down the metro station escalators; filling the streets of the downtown neighborhood of Pinheiros with hand-drawn signs, their faces painted with the green and yellow stripes of the Brazilian flag. “We don’t have health, we don’t have education, we don’t have anything dignified,” cried one protester. “When injustice becomes routine,” a big square sign read, “revolution becomes necessary.” The government had recently implemented a 20-cent increase on bus fares. But with the price hike, as one protester pointed out, “transport didn’t improve, nor did the bus drivers’ wages.” The money, they figured, was going straight into the pockets of state officials. They didn’t have to look far to find evidence, either; the history of Brazil offers precedent after precedent to support their claim.

The renowned samba singer Luísa Maita never imagined that such a protest could happen in Brazil, where a long record of government corruption—and an extremely lopsided distribution of wealth—have been largely met with passivity. “The giant had woken up,” she told me, echoing what became a common phrase in the days that followed, as the protests grew across the country. It was on that first night, however, that Maita grabbed her guitar and quickly sketched a song that hardly rang of victory; it was an indictment. She called it “Fio de Memoria”—‘vile thread of memory.’ In its final recording, the song mixes traditional samba and contemporary club music, celebrating the natural blurring together of cultures. Its message hones in on a bitter truth: often times, justice comes painfully slowly—if it comes at all.

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Story of a Song: Devon Welsh, “Go Go”

Devon Welsh

Throughout his career, both as the frontman of the now-defunct minimalist electronic duo Majical Cloudz, as well as the recordings under his own name, Devon Welsh has made a point of diving headlong into the mystery of death. Welsh launches his voice like a bolt of lightning, illuminating the scary and uncomfortable truths we typically push out of mind and out of sight. While his past collaborations with Matthew Otto, the other half of Majical Cloudz, used bare-bones instrumental arrangements in order to emphasize Welsh’s magnetic voice, “Go Go,” the single track that Welsh quietly uploaded to Bandcamp earlier this month, marks an even more radical level of starkness in his craft. On the track—which Welsh wrote, recorded and mixed alone—he strips away nearly every layer of sound between his voice and our ears, leaving nowhere to hide from the cold reality its lyrics convey. In part written for a mentor suffering from a terminal sickness, and in part an inward-facing meditation on the uncertainty of life, “Go Go” is a study in mystery and confusion, delivered with diamond-sharp clarity.

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Story of a Song: of Montreal, “it’s different for girls”

Of Montreal
Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal. Photo by Chad Kamenshine

From the moment that Kevin Barnes—frontman of of Montreal—and I began chatting, an elephant appeared in the room: what was a 40-year-old dude doing writing “it’s different for girls,” a song about Barnes’ imaginations about what it’s like to be a woman in 2016? (Though Barnes has cross-dressed his way across many a stage, as many a drag queen or gender theorist will inform you, women’s clothes do not a woman make.) Sparing his interlocutor some awkwardness, Barnes brought up the topic on his own, confirming that I wasn’t the only one raising an eyebrow. In fact, he told me, he’d gotten a fair amount of criticism, from people he knows personally, about the song. What proved to be far more surprising than the criticism itself was the fact that Barnes seemed a bit taken aback by it. Because in his eyes, “it’s different for girls” isn’t a feminist anthem, an objective declaration, or even much of an analysis. To him, the song is simply a series of observations and ruminations, delivered with his standard blend of snark, cynicism, and humor. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not personal.

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Story of a Song: -(16)-‘s “Seinfeld”-Inspired “George”

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-(16)-. Photo by Shauna Montrucchio

Cris Jerue, the 45-year-old frontman of long-standing sludge metal band -(16)-, tends to write songs about himself. Over the course of seven full-length albums, Jerue has used his microphone as a vehicle to vent bitter memories of his own addiction, mental instability, and malaise. “This is my therapy,” Jerue said recently. “When I write, it’s like I’m yelling at myself.” Yet at the end of -(16)-‘s new album Lifespan of a Moth, Jerue flips expectations. On the walloping track “George,” Jerue abandons autobiography in favor of a voice that is radically different from his own: Seinfeld’s George Costanza.

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