It’s a long life, made up of seemingly infinitesimal moments. The Sea The Sea captures those moments when you feel incredibly alive and in the world and reimagines them as flashes of light in their new album, Stumbling Home. When time seems to stretch into prolonged chaos, The Sea The Sea keeps us grounded in the essential with their beautifully intricate brand of indie folk-pop. The New York-based duo is composed of Chuck and Mira Costa, who draw their infectious melodies from pop, but otherwise subverts expectations with their unconventional song arrangements. More than anything else, however, this free-spirited pairing are lauded for their exemplary vocal harmonies. The Costas’ exquisite vocals fit together like puzzle pieces tailor-made for the duo. Their voices are completely authentic, sounding lovely and unblemished in their own right. But while duets are a key part of The Sea The Sea’s sound, they also play with thick choral-textured harmonies and solo lines to add some variance among the tracks while still maintaining their sound.
Stumbling Home is brimming with musical imagery that is at times delicate and at other times deep and rustic. The result is glimpses of life, as seen through nature and a little bit of magic. The opening track, “Nothing Brighter” sounds like light, with the glint of sunlight on a clear day in the understated woodwind flourishes, and the glowing bass and piano as the blurry hues of a sunset. The relaxed, tranquil guitar solo sounds like it’s underwater, painting images of rays of light extending down beneath the surface. “A Thousand Years” is more concrete, sounding like the musical equivalent of camping beneath a starry sky. The rich guitar picking and embellishments are the flickers of the fire as they rise above and become stars overhead. The track embodies the deeply rooted tranquility that comes from being removed from society, as felt in the gentle thump of the drum in the stunning interlude partway through the song. Other images are abstract, such as in “Rainstorm.” While there are no explicit qualities in the track that denote a storm, as a whole, it has this somber beauty to it that echoes that of the fall of rain and thundering clouds.
In literature and art, however, one can always find magic embedded within nature. The Sea The Sea captures this magic in their songs with sparing uses of synth and electric guitar. The chorus of the emotional “Broken” sweeps up in a satisfying multi-part harmony and ends with glimmering drops of guitar plucks. Towards the end, these drops lead the song to the pleasantly haunting outro “oohs,” transforming the sound from sparkling fairy dust to mystic beings deep within the forest. “Fall Before The Climb” starts with a simple voice and guitar, but builds, first with harmony, then with a gently driven beat and dulcet electric tones that return to the shimmering stars of “A Thousand Years”, but from the perspective of outer space rather than earth. The acute line “Can we be in love with it all?” summarizes the album as a whole, mirroring the idea of the moments in life when you feel alive and in tune with the world. Uncomplicated guitar strums and the Costas’ patented vocals showcase guitar and synth sorcery in “Stumbling Home.” Bowed strings make their appearance for the first time in this track. Despite how well they fit, the strings are a bit of a surprise, giving “Stumbling Home” a bit of refinement compared to the other, more rustic tracks. Subtle but welcome changes like this find their way into many songs on Stumbling Home. “Parachute” sounds like you would expect after hearing a few songs on this album, except Chuck’s harmony is missing. Instead, Mira backs herself with echoes and a feathery multi-part harmony that sound like forest nymphs. The track also feels more intimate than the others, beginning with some room noise and ending with an ambiguous woosh sound that keeps the listener tethered to the real world. The standout track “Real Thing” realizes a slightly harder, rock sound with a bit of sharp guitar strums and stronger drum beat. Every guitar, synth melody, and percussion part contributes to the full sound, and the universally appealing chorus line “ahh, give me that real thing” has that cathartic nature to it that makes this track one to sing along to. I only wish it were longer; every time I listen to it I’m disappointed when it reaches its end. “I’ll Be Loving You” and “Foreign Country” share an understated mesmerizing quality. “I’ll Be Loving You” and its 6/8 time creates this swaying nature that’s perfect for a love song. Spirited triplet guitar figures simultaneously embrace the vocals and the listener, coaxing both to sink into serenity. “Foreign Country” has substantial guitar, but the line “Do we ever really know exactly where we are?” floats across the background like falling leaves, and the perpetual beat invites the listener to snap along, almost in a trance.
The Sea The Sea’s 2014 debut release, Love We Are We Love, received praise from NPR, American Songwriter, and No Depression. The video for their song “Waiting” sparked the interest of Buzzfeed and Pitchfork, and was included at the international TED 2015 conference. But for the duo, Stumbling Home reaches a new level of fulfillment. “It’s the work we are most proud of to date,” shares Mira. “We are proud of the way we grew the arrangements in our new creative space. Making music fills us, and we also believe that it matters in the world. Our mission statement as a band is to remind people they aren’t alone — in their pains or their joys, and everything in-between.” This shrewd sense of the world, both what it seems to be and what it is, allows Stumbling Home to be a beacon of light in an otherwise ill-lit world.
In an effort to work through the trauma of a psychologically abusive relationship, Caitlin Pasko offers Greenhouse: nine hauntingly pensive songs that aim to heal the self and move on from past wounds. A greenhouse is a structure that protects plant life from unfavourable external conditions, and in the same way Greenhouse provides a safe space for Pasko’s songs to grow and flourish into understanding and acceptance. The album is deeply involved with the concept of space– both in a metaphorical sense with its title, but also in terms of its sonic atmosphere. All the songs exist suspended in space, and silence works hand-in-hand with language to provide room for Pasko’s thoughts to form and evolve. “Ooo Happy”, a fleeting and chilling mid-album interlude has fourteen seconds of silence at the end before moving on. There are no words in this silence, and yet it speaks volumes. Much of Pasko’s gentle and breathy vocals on this album are delicately supported by sparse accompaniment, but each line carries so much weight. The accompaniment sometimes comes in the form of electronic atmospheres or decorative plucked strings, but most often in the form of ambient piano playing. Pasko’s compositions fully explore the tension between dynamics, tempo, and space, reminding one of Satie or Debussy. Her songs feel liberated from tempo, as her vocals and elegant piano melodies freely move like fantasias. In “Unwell”, the placement of each word and each chord is liberated from any sort of beat, but at the same time is deliberate and effective.
“Unwell” is also the first of a trio of songs on Greenhouse, manifested from Pasko’s walks through Brooklyn in 2017. During these walks she experienced dissociation– a kind of out-of-body sensation where she felt like she was floating above herself, viewing herself from a different point of view. Pasko channels this idea of multiple points of views in “Unwell”, “Mother”, and “Even God.” She crafts parallels in her lyrics between songs, such as when she talks about walking a neighbourhood that isn’t hers in “Unwell” and then sings “Today I remembered what it feels like to go walking on the sidewalk in the city that’s not my city” in “Mother”, the lyrics in both songs spilling over one another, feeling like a wandering thought. “Mother” plays with perspective as well, towards the end she sings “She’s my daughter, I’m her sister, she’s my sister, I’m her mother, she’s my mother” and delves into the idea of becoming a mother herself, with a second voice joining her in harmony when she talks about creative another life. “Even God” is written from the perspective of Pasko’s own mother and recalls Greenhouse’s inspiration: an abusive relationship. “Even God” is about being trauma-bonded to an abusive partner, with the principal lyric “Even God is selfish” playing with the idea that “nobody’s perfect.” About the song, Pasko says “‘You can sleep in / just make the bed’ is me saying, ‘I will put up with these bouts of cruelty, because I know you love me.’ It’s dark. I was sick. I was twisting the truth in order to cope with my reality, and as I started to believe my non-truth, I also turned against my friends who wanted to help me. If I believed them, then I’d have to admit to my own hell.”
So while “Even God” is about Pasko’s relationship with her partner, it’s also about how her situation affected her relationship with her friends, and even herself. Greenhouse documents the dissolution of relationships, romantic, platonic, and familial, all the while developing her ever-evolving connection to herself. “I Know I” uses two part harmony to represent Pasko’s child self and her inner mother, and how they communicate. The lower harmony briefly becomes the lead in the middle of the song, but soon enough returns to its original role, functioning as a metaphor for the conversations that take place between the mind and the heart. We hear this metaphorical harmony in “Mother” as well, when Pasko mulls over the possibility of motherhood for herself. At times, the album highlights relationships in the form of a dichotomy, such as in “Horrible Person.” The deeply reflective nature of the track contradicts its themes of self-abandonment and toxic enmeshment. Therefore, the “horrible person” is not only the abuser, but also the self as seen through someone else’s distorted, narcissistic mirror. Pasko composed the track a cappella, alone in her bed, in the dark, in an attempt to develop a reclamation of personal agency. It became the album’s centerpiece, and uses electronic sounds to create tension but also to depict an underwater chasm. Flickers of sound represent neon diatoms that dart around Pasko, eventually overtaking her right before the song ends in a deafening silence.
“Horrible Person” highlights how an abusive relationship can have reverberations in other parts of someone’s life, and when it’s over you have to remedy that. But a part of healing is confronting what happened and believing one’s own survival story. Pasko rewrites the narrative surrounding her experience in “Quiet Weather” and “To The Leaves.” In “Quiet Weather”, Pasko uses metaphors for herself and her partner to evoke imagery of a lake with still waters, showing her sense of lyrical craftsmanship. She attempts to exhume the past to allow herself to move on, singing “When I think of you I take a shovel to my chest and dig as deep as I can get.” “To The Leaves” is an artistic wonder that stitches together fragmented versions of the self in order to regain a sense of personal identity. With the words “It’s hard to believe that I was ever a peach in the leaves / It’s hard to believe that I was ever that version of me,” Pasko calls to attention how a survivor may gaslight herself into not believing her own experience. The piano gently plays haunting suspended chords that send a shiver down your spine.
The effective chords in “To The Leaves” create one of the scarce moments in the album that evokes emotion. Greenhouse is not emotional, it’s passive and composed. Yet it isn’t devoid of feeling. It’s a document; her words and experiences speak for themselves. In the moments where the piano chords deepen or electronic static takes over the space, they only emphasize the already implicit feelings. We hear this in the closing track, “Intimate Distance,” in which Pasko sings to herself as an act of atonement. The opening piano is unsentimental, but as the song progresses it deepens, at times feeling somber but at other times feeling powerful and majestic. “Intimate Distance” is the final step to moving on for Pasko, she clarifies and makes peace with the pain and love that lie beneath her trauma.
Greenhouse is intricate, intellectual, and complex. But so is the path to healing. By the time we get to “Intimate Distance”, we have seen Pasko face her damage from the past, engage with the possibilities of her future, and deal with all of the complications along the way. Her words are utterly beautiful, and packed with exquisite veiled meaning that would take many listens to fully grasp. From its title to its reserved demeanour that is subtly interwoven with emotion, Greenhouse is an understated work of art that needs to be listened to with willing ears and an open heart.
The LA indie-rock duo Mating Ritual has released The Bungalow, a quirky album made for the summer of 2020 that we never got. Finished on the day before mandatory quarantine hit, the album plays like an ironic look at a world that at one time, we thought was for certain. Vaguely inspired by the duo’s east-LA home, The Bungalow deepens Mating Rituals’ already cavernous pool of influences by incorporating elements of Bossa Nova and Disco. Previously known as Pacific Air, brothers Ryan Marshall Lawhon and Taylor Lawhon have already released three albums in three years, as per their ambitious and assured commitment to releasing five albums in five years. These released albums, How You Gonna Stop It? (2017), Light Myself On Fire (2018) and Hot Content (2019) have amassed much praise from The Consequence of Sound, Billboard, and the like, and The Bungalow is sure to follow in these footsteps.
“We wanted this one to be almost entirely light-hearted,” Ryan said about the album. To inaugurate this sentiment, The Bungalow offers the opening track, “Welcome To The Bungalow”, in which a jazzy backdrop radiates from your speakers, reminding one of easy-listening lounge music. Then, a slightly distorted voice begins to speak to you, to welcome you to “the bungalow.” He tells you that you’re “free to dance, if you’d like, or take a seat if that’s more your style.” His words are so specific, so vivid, and so personal. “There’s terry cloth robes in the bathroom if you need to wash the day off you.” It feels oddly unsettling… but certainly intriguing.
“Welcome To The Bungalow” functions as a swanky interlude that introduces the next three songs on The Bungalow. As we move through the album, we see two more of these interludes and two more sets of songs. The first trio is a dance group full of funky basslines and groovy melodies that entreat the dancers visiting the bungalow to get on their feet. The next track, simply called “The Bungalow”, furthers the all-embracing mood of the previous track, the words “come over to the bungalow, I’d like to show you around,” sung by a chorus of voices that conjure up images of a man leading a happy group of followers to the fabled bungalow, with people joining as they move along. Infused with arcade-style electronic sounds and vivacious energy, “The Bungalow” leads right into the next groove-filled song: “Voodoo.” This track begins with some Mother Mother-like vocals followed by a grand string flourish that could be taken right out of a song from the 70’s, but simultaneously manifests the present with alt-rock guitars in the chorus. “Elastic Summer” adopts a reggae beat and a retro melody that sounds like synthetic stars, but still sounds undeniably modern, straddling the line between past and present.
In another interlude we visit the street that the bungalow resides on– “The Third Steepest Street In America.” The jazzy drums and sax return, and the distorted voice continues to reveal odd and intimate details. It ends with an unresolved harmony and an upward moving melody to incite tension that diffuses into the next trio. “Unusual” initiates the three-track era of sweeping synths. It uses a drum machine and a thick atmosphere that surrounds a playfully disjunct chorus melody. The bridge is a colourful landscape with glittering synths and guitar. “King Of The Doves” may start with a clean drum beat, but soon enough some 80’s synth melodies enter the mix. The edge of the leading voice is coated with background vocals which are robotic, clear, and distorted at different times, creating a unique effect. After a guitar solo, a DEVO-esque bass pulses along, leading the track to its end. “Heart Don’t Work” is a slow tune with the disposition of a ballad, but it’s thickly layered with synths and Peter Gabriel-style drums that deviate from the classic piano ballad. As the lyrics say “I don’t know why my heart don’t work like it should,” it comes to attention that while this album may sound light-hearted, there are some deeper themes that are embedded in the lyrics to look out for.
We return once again to the lively bungalow scene in “My Postmate Is Here.” We hear the same eerily familiar voice talk, but there is also a second voice warbling in the background. It’s words are hard to make out, and they distract from what the first voice is saying, making for the perfect transition into the final trio of songs. These songs are harder to categorize, on one hand they share a sound with the album as a whole and elements of the other two trios, but on the other hand they are unique. “Ok” has the least amount of synths. For a moment it feels like it has an attitude with the edgy, swaggering guitar and bass, but when you listen to the words– “we’re all just trying to survive” and “I’m asking why,” it frames things in a more humbled light. The line “I wanna know the way I used to feel the sunlight on my face” is amusingly relevant; while it’s not about quarantine, those who have been isolated in their homes these past months can certainly identify with it. This track is sweeping in the sense that the nature of the vocals make one imagine him on his knees in an open field, pleading to the skies, but it’s missing the heavy synth component of the second trio. “Raining In Paradise” is similar to “King Of The Doves” with its cool synth melody, but it’s less atmospheric. This track features my favourite vocal performance– the melody plays with a higher range and has challenging leaps that are navigated expertly. Finally, “Moon Dust” is slow, soft, and more tender than any of the previous tracks. It feels familiar almost immediately with its soothing piano part and recognizable melody. A lunar synth interlude makes this track true to its name.
Although “Moon Dust” fits with the album overall, it shows how far the album moved from the opening track. It’s as though after your long day at the bungalow you’re beginning to grow tired and decide it’s time to go home. And of course, this cues a final interlude, titled “So Long, Los Guapos.” This interlude isn’t like the others. The distorted voice says “thanks for stopping by… until next time,” periodically throughout the minute and a half long track, but instead of the clear jazz sound, we get an atmospheric soundscape with guitar and some synth melodies. In some way, it feels like the perfect summation of all of the different tracks that are heard in The Bungalow.
The Bungalow embodies the carefree nature and gaiety of the summer we might have had if Covid hadn’t hit. But with its heavy use of nostalgic synths and hints at retro styles, perhaps it also functions as a projection of how society’s tendency to yearn for the past in the face of tension in the present. When you hear Peter Gabriel-esque drums or funky bass lines from the ’70s, you’re transported back to a time when the most recent worldwide pandemic was the Spanish Flu. No matter how you feel about the past or present, however, The Bungalow is a party where the hosts seem to know you better than you know yourself.
Make your way over to the third steepest street in America and stream Mating Ritual’s fourth album in four years. “We are proud to present our new album 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐁𝐮𝐧𝐠𝐚𝐥𝐨𝐰 out now! Make yourself a daiquiri, light some incense, and enjoy the ride” — I like how quirky these guys are.
The Dead Milkmen’s (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang 7”, marks the first release since the 2017 release of Welcome to the End of the World EP. The legendary Philly punk band was set to record their new album in 2020, which came to a halt due to the pandemic. However, their latest release features their post-punk leaning cover of Heaven 17’s classic, anti-Fascist anthem “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” and a new original single called “A Complicated Faith” on the B-side. The release comes via Philadelphia-based independent label The Giving Groove, who donate all label profits to a 501(c)3 music-related charity; The Dead Milkmen have chosen Girls Rock Philly as the recipient for this release.
“(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” comes right in time for the upcoming Republican National Convention. The track gives Heaven 17’s original a facelift, adding a steady and updated beat to match their original sound and 1981 lyrics. After playing the track live in concert, after the 2016 election, the band headed to the studio to record their version. The band’s original song, “A Complicated Faith” is three minutes of Depeche Mode-inspired rhythms and a scalding guitar solo courtesy of Joe Jack Talcum. The two tracks stick to their melodic brand of on-topic, thumping beats.
After over 30 years of making music, give or take a 13-year break, The Dead Milkmen still got it. The band’s current lineup consists of Rodney Anonymous (a.k.a. Rodney Linderman), Joe Jack Talcum (a.k.a. Joe Genaro), Dean Clean (a.k.a. Dean Sabatino), and Dan Stevens, who joined the group following the death of original bassist Dave Blood. With the release of (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang 7”, fans will be delighted to have new songs to listen to until the anticipated album is out.
Today, the deeply relevant EP Finishing School was released by Brontë Fall. The literature-infused pen name is the songwriting project of classically trained musician Teri Bracken, who is ever inspired by the Brontë sisters and their courageous defiance of social norms at a time when women’s voices often went unheard. After coming across Emily Brontë’s poem “Fall Leaves Fall”, Bracken fell in love with the idea of finding beauty in the darker seasons of life. In her own life and music, Bracken embodies the spirit of this poem and the Brontë sisters with an openness and eloquence that firmly impresses her messages in her listeners’ minds. Most of all, Bracken wants to use her art to empower those around her and to connect with those who can identify with her experiences. She says:
As a musician, I almost feel like I’m defending who I am and what I want. Perhaps I feel pressure to be a certain way. These songs were written about feeling proud of where I am and what I’m doing. It’s about feeling empowered wherever you are in life, and celebrating the past while building your own kind of future.
Bracken attacks her issues from different places, opting for a tougher sound in “Warrior”, “Bad Ideas”, and “White Dress”, but also showing her softer side in “Six Years”, “Freeway High”, and “Give You A Halo.” No matter her musical approach, however, her words show her courage and boldness to say what she has to say. Finishing School is packed with empowering anthems, sometimes punchy, sometimes subtle, but all with catchy choruses that use repeated words and melodic lines to drive her points home. Each track deals with a female experience, entertaining and inspiring her listeners along the way.
“Six Years” is a celebration of aging contrary to the praise put on the youthfulness of women in today’s world. Bracken’s voice isn’t loud or confrontational as she sings, but rather it assumes a calmness that comes from a place of complete honesty. Yet at the same time, her voice could fill an entire room, ringing out full and glorious. The track slowly builds, with drums and the bulk of the music only coming in in the second verse, giving it its anthemic quality as Bracken sings “I’m six older, six years smarter, six years stronger with a will that’s unbreakable.” “Freeway High” is all about liberation and letting go. On the surface, this liberation is symbolized in the freedom of an open road but, on a deeper level, it calls to mind the freedom that the Brontë sisters and Bracken herself were (and still are) fighting for. The track has a bit of a country sound, drawing the line between Bracken’s pop and rock influences. Her soaring vocals rise straight to heaven where they’re greeted by angelic harmonies, while a solo violin part adopts its own sense of liberty as it freely moves through notes. In a heartbreakingly tender but equally powerful ballad, “Give You A Halo”, Bracken sings of someone she’s afraid of losing, written for her Grandma. It begins with a ¾ time piano part that reminds one of a black and white scene of a Parisian street in a melancholic french film, setting the sentimental mood for the track. Strings slowly join in, exploring soul-stirring deep ranges that fortify her words. As Bracken sings “Oh late at night I try to call on you without tears in my eyes… but I’m not ready to give you a halo,” with such an earnest conviction, you can’t help but to feel your own heartbreak.
While all of these tracks are similarly calm with a subtle sense of empowerment to them, Bracken is far from one-dimensional, and the remaining three tracks on Finishing School show it. “Warrior” is tough with its electric guitar and blues-rock singing style. Dealing with the fight against misogyny in business and the music industry, this track is a swaggering anthem that uses a piece of wisdom from Donatella Versace (“A dress is a weapon”) to depict femininity as an arsenal. From her voice to her words, Bracken is unapologetic and badass, singing “go ahead and call me a tease, I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.” “Bad Ideas” has a darker sound to it, with low-range underlying harmonies and short string strokes that add a sense of drama. The song points out how complicated life can be, wanting to “unbreak” someone’s heart even though it’s a bad idea. To close off the EP, “White Dress” returns to the spunky energy of “Warrior” but in an old-fashioned way– using an organ and a bluesy sound that feels somewhat ironic set against her modern feminist words. About the constant pressure to get married, Bracken defies expectations and sings “it may not look like the rest, this is my white dress,” showing that she can find fulfillment outside of marriage.
This closing track brings us right back to the core of the album: honesty. Bracken is channelling the Brontë sisters and their feminism to provide an EP that not only speaks her truth about the expectations that persist for women even today but also gives validation to anyone out there who wants to break free of those expectations. Finishing School may cross into different genres and explore varied musical elements, but each song is unified by Bracken’s expressive voice, and most importantly, her beautiful and pertinent words.
It has been nine years since David Newton & Thee Mighty Angels released the debut EP, Paint the Town, so there’s no better time than now to release a debut album. A Gateway to a Lifetime of Disappointment is Newton’s debut solo album and a modern contemporary take on the melodic uplifting side of the 80’s post-punk sound. He continues the earlier sounds from his band, The Mighty Lemon Drops, where he wrote songs and played guitar. After the release of Paint the Town, Newton focused on producing and engineering for other artists at his Los Angeles recording studio.
A Gateway to a Lifetime of Disappointment is written, performed, recorded and mixed by David Newton. The first single, “The Songs That Changed Our Lives”, features lead vocals by Eddie Argos from Art Brut. It lists Argos and Newton’s favorite tracks growing up that had an impact on them, accompanied by a video of well-worn 7” singles. With a mix of new and old songs from the previous EP, they flow together and represent the vision Newton had been chasing. “In Love and War” starts off on the right foot, an upbeat pop track to tease the rest of the album. The introduction of “The Kids Are Not Alright” draws you in and repeats through the background of the track. The themes of the tracks chronicle the joys and disappointments of what life can throw at us. “Avoid It” warns to stay clear of anything that will make you crash and burn. The track is somehow similar to the sound of Pink Floyd, but more upbeat.
The album is a prime example of the variety in Newton repertoire, mixing genres and stepping outside of the box with lyrics. “My First Band” and “Paint the Town” fit between the styles of indie-rock and pop. Although Newton took on most of the work on this record, he did have help from other musicians. “Bittersweet” features Sarah Negahdari on vocals and Nick Amoroso on drums, adding some flair to the track. The shortest and sweetest track, “This Time”, is all about happiness and love. Listening to it you can feel the emotion behind his voice, making it the most sincere on the album. Similarly, “Connect With You” has an almost giddy feeling to it, connecting you to Newton. A Gateway to a Lifetime of Disappointment is the return from David Newton & Thee Mighty Angels the world needed.