Songwriters

Caroline Polachek takes listeners on a celestial voyage on "Billions"

Photo by Aidan Zamiri, styled by Tati Cotliar

The mesmerizingly winding road of Caroline Polachek’s musical trajectory had spanned far and wide—from writing haunted house music in Boulder, Colorado to co-founding the indie combo Chairlift and bestriding the Great-Early-21st-Century-Brooklyn-Psych-Pop-Rock Renaissance alongside the likes of MGMT, Yeasayer, and Grizzly Bear; from songwriting collabs with such obscure niche artists as Beyoncé, Solange, and Blood Orange to putting out solo albums under two separate alter egos (the Dario Argento-adjacent dark synthpop soundtracks of Ramona Lisa, and the electro-instrumental ambient drift of CEP); and finally, from her 2019 debut LP released under her own name called Pang to her two latest singles which together demonstrate that Ms. Polachek still has plenty of new musical highways and byways left to explore somehow. 

The first of these two singles (“Bunny Is A Rider”) is a song about being “liberated by disappearance, about non-responding, about being unbeholden to anyone” which accounts for the refrain of Bunny is a rider / satellite can’t find her which is a fitting theme for our current Surveillance Age where freedom’s just another word for somewhere left to get lost—a theme mirrored sonically by the stark bassline-led Spaghetti Western musical textures, and their implied wide-open spaces, complete with pitter-pattering rhythms and high lonesome whistling and autotuned trilling and sampled infant cooing plus plenty of tape hiss and chicken scratch and synth swelling all of which makes going off the digital grid sound like escaping to a glitchy Wild West.

The second single, “Billions,” released earlier this month, likewise takes the listener to a place outside of normal experience or social surveillance—the title and the cosmic vibes of “Billions” can’t help but put this listener in a very Carl Sagan-esque headspace—a space comprised of delicately lurching reversed rhythms and skittering tablas that like raindrops dancing off rooftops plus celestial choirs and sub-bass and string arpeggiations and dramatic recitations and a breakdown section with what may possibly be a dilruba solo (but hey I’m no ethnomusicologist) not to mention Caroline’s majestically malleable voice swooping across multiple octave registers and multiple emotional registers and multiple digital manipulations across the song’s nearly five-minute kaleidoscopic arrangement.

In sum it’s a virtuosic arrangement and production and performance overall—with both singles co-written and co-produced by British producer/remixer/songwriter Danny L Harle, best known for his work with the pioneering PC Music collective and for his impressive resume of collaborations, including making Pang and seriously the collaborative work of Polachek & Harle so far is the closest upgraded-equivalent of Bjork and Nellee Hooper’s sublime mid-90s sides that I know of with “Billions” being their “Venus As A Boy” (extolling the virtues of a lover who lies like a sailor but…loves like a painter). The duo have a knack for not only crossing musical boundaries but also for pretty much melting them away entirely, with synthetic sounds rendered vivid and visceral and lifelike, while organic sounds often come off as extraterrestrial, in other words, a near-total meshing of human/physical and machine/technological that’s like “sexting sonnets / under the tables / tangled in cables” to quote Caroline herself.

Oh and the video for “Billions” is cool too just like most of Ms. Polachek’s video (see top of this page, co-directed by Matt Copson and Caroline herself) and after viewing it you’ll probably wanna go grape-picking-and-stomping and then order some cool crazy-straw-style wine glasses and an ornamental blown-glass funnel for bath-taking purposes but sorry no Paul Giamatti. (Jason Lee)

   

Iris Marlowe "Make Up Your Mind"

As Iris Marlowe prepares to release her next album later this years the singer songwriter has released a remastered and rerecorded version of one a song, "Make Up Your Mind", from her 2019 debut album, Savannah.

Marlowe draws heavily from '60's folk, pop, and vintage country and western music.

   

Sunflower Summit "Lightly"

Sunflower Summit has released a single called "Lightly" exclusively on her bandcamp page.

This is the second single from the soulful pop singer this year following up last month's "Temporary".

   

Bummer Camp learn(s) to "Laugh All Day"

A lot of times when I'm writing these reviews or rants or whatever they are exactly it's sometimes difficult to decide if a band’s name should be followed by a singular or a plural verb. Like most people would say “The Doors were on tour in Miami when Jim Morrison was arrested for indecent exposure” because to say “The Doors was on tour when Jimbo etc etc penis etc etc” just sounds weird. But to say “Duran Duran is a band known for their sometimes risqué music videos” versus "are a band known for..." isn’t so weird at all even though there’s at least two “Durans” in the group. It’s all darn confusing sometimes.

What’s also darn confusing sometimes, and just about as common these days, is the question of whether a “band” who’s really just a single dude or dudette or charcoal briquette (whatever!) should be treated as a singular entity or a collective identity. And to complicate/simplify matters further it’s not unusual for individuals to refer to themselves as “they” these days. So hey, why not use the plural form of verbs for these individuals-cum-bands like for instance: “St. Vincent are known for being romantically linked to Kristen Stewart” which isn't bad actually because this makes it so much easier to have sex with entire bands at once and to describe such encounters in grammatically precise terms. 

Anyway what I’m really driving at here is that Bummer Camp is/are one of those “one-man bands” that gives verb-tense fixated music blog editors headaches (and don't even get me started on one-woman bands!) but for the rest of humanity Bummer Camp is/are simply purveyors of good head music, that is, if you’re chill enough for it because Mr. Bummer has a way with entrancing songs built around looping repetitions and layer-by-layer wall-of-sound constructions like a DIY musical paper mâché project made up of Rick Rubinesque Def Jam-era drum loops, bedrock bass riffs, and circling, swirling layers of guitar (plus the occasional synth natch) pasting scraps of melody-upon-melody and texture-upon-texture but while never losing the minimalist feel of each basic building block either. And by any given song's end you may feel like you huffed a little too much Elmer's glue

Bummer Camp's latest single “Laugh All Day”—his/their third single in the preceding five months—provides a good case-in-point for the points above. The song also fits his/their social-media self description to a tee, i.e., “gothy folk pop from Queens” and lyrically it's either “about my life, my friends, my family, my job, [or] my car and the inadequacy it feels because it only has one headlight" because that's what Bummer Camp songs are about.

"Laugh All Day" opens with a chugging chord progression that would do Paul Westerberg proud with its restrained “aging punk rocker aging gracefully” raggedy folksy vibe but accompanied by a primitive drum machine and catchy as hell to boot. Then about half a minute in there’s a lead part that enters with this distinctive mid-tempo-contemplative-melodic-goth feel to it where you just know that if Molly Ringwald were in detention she'd go up onto the library's stairwell landing and do her preppie anarchy dance, a mood that's intensified further by the swampy echo on the vocals sung with a Richard Butler-esque sunglasses-at-night insouciance. Ergo, gothy folk pop from Queens. 

“Laugh All Day” bops along contentedly but it also keeps slipping in these subtly spectral moments too—like how the guitar line mimics the vocal melody at first but then starts to detach until it spins off into its own curlicue melodic figures finally reaching escape velocity about halfway through the song, and then dissolving into a shimmering halo of sound, and then a plucky palm-muted surf’s up section, and then a rhythmic drop and a cascading guitar line soaring over the top, and then a wordless vocal croon soaring over the top of the soaring guitar line, with the end effect something like a chorus of cicadas on a still summer night. 

So with these recent single releases who knows if Bummer Camp is building up to full EP or an LP or a fold-out-gatefold-triple-album concept record that'll come with a full set of van decal stickers illustrated by Roger Dean. But wherever it all ends up I'd say it’s a safe to say this one-man band will keep us oscillating wildly (or oscillating mellowly) until we reach the end of the ride. (Jason Lee)

   

Stephanie Alma "Am I Worthy"

Stephanie Alma has released a new single called "Am I Worthy" which finds her teaming with her real-life partner percussionist Tommy Carroll (Calculated Discomfort).

It was just last month that she dropped her debut album, "Mi Chicago", which was recorded live at Golden Dagger.

In her words, Alma has passion for "the sounds of disability identity and self-awareness through formal and informal vocal expression". Both Alma and Carroll are legally blind but that clearly can not stop creativity, love, and art.