Justin Vernon’s Ascent Into The Artificial

justin.jpeg

How A Winding Career Led One Man From Folk Hero to Electronic Mastermind

The story of Bon Iver is almost cliched to recite at this point. Heartbroken over a breakup and frustrated with his unsuccessful music career, 25-year-old Justin Vernon embraced his inner-Thoreau and recoiled from civilization in a remote Wisconsin cabin. Over the course of a 2006 winter, Vernon spent his days in isolation hunting for his own food, contemplating his relationships, and recording his thoughts to music in a process that would eventually form his breakthrough album.

Released the name Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago would come out in the summer of 2007 to widespread critical acclaim and unexpected crossover success. Led by the undeniable indie hit “Skinny Love,” Vernon’s unveiling as Bon Iver put him on the map, solidifying him almost instantly as a bona fide folk superstar. This record, along with Fleet Foxes self-titled debut, would serve as an entry point to the indie and folk genres for an entire generation of budding music fans. Despite his humble origins as a soft-spoken folk singer, Vernon has gone on have one of the most interesting, unexpected, and diverse careers in his field… but it didn’t get that way overnight. 

For Emma, Forever Ago contains lots of things you would expect on a folk album: acoustic guitar, heartfelt vocals, and even some expressive brass instruments on a few tracks. It’s a choral journey through the frigid darkness of heartbreak and depression, but the greatest trick Justin Vernon ever pulled was what came next: a series of albums that grew in size, scope, and influence where each was more diverse and masterful than the last. But to fully appreciate the steps he took to get there, we have to start at the beginning. 

What Might Have Been Lost

2e921100b2c731bd92b63d9db4041bb9.1000x1000x1.jpg

Even a cursory listen of For Emma, Forever Ago will reveal why the record became a gateway to the folk genre for a generation of fans. While music from this genre can easily become “folksy background noise” that’s pushed to the back of millennial’s campfire and bedtime playlists, Emma is anything but. Thanks to varied instrumentation, full-hearted emotion, and Vernon’s “melody-first” approach, the record reaches out and demands your attention. It’s a cozy-sounding album that you can sink into and lose yourself in. 

Despite its rustic, folksy sound, one song in particular sticks out as the album’s most complicated and heart-wrenching tracks: “Wolves (Act I and II).” Coming in at track number four of nine, “Wolves” finds itself exactly halfway through For Emma, essentially acting as its emotional low-point. It’s a breakup song, yes, but after dozens of repeated listens, one moment in the song has stuck with me more than any other on the record.

The song starts just as straightforward as any other on the album, however, it’s deceptively-simple beginning quickly makes way for the densest track on the album. Opening with a single acoustic guitar, the song features a multi-layered vocal that finds Vernon harmonizing with himself. The most striking moment in the song comes halfway through the track where the bridge enters and (presumably) the second “act” begins. Vernon sings “What might have been lost” repeatedly, and the most telling moment comes at 2:50 where the third repetition bears a twinge of autotune on the word “lost.”

What might have been lost
What might have been lost
What might have been lost

Vernon goes on to repeat that phrase a total of fourteen times throughout the song, eventually interrupting himself with pained cries of “Don't bother me” that gradually build until a clatter of instruments brings the song crashing to an end. 

“Wolves” is a heartbreaking song, and it’s weird to get hung up on the delivery of one word, but that single use of auto-tune planted the seeds for the rest of Vernon’s discography. They forecast what was coming next. They offered a one-word hint toward Vernon’s future, one that he may not have even been conscious of at the time, but we can point to now that we have all the pieces. 

Up In The Woods

f480ff12930f006fe48fb600b62822bd.1000x1000x1.jpg

Two years after the initial release of For Emma, Vernon published an update: a four-track EP by the name of Blood Bank. Clocking in at 17-minutes, Blood Bank was only a bite-sized follow-up, but one that was eagerly devoured by Bon Iver fans who were hungry for new music. 

Bearing snow-covered album art, Blood Bank seemed to rekindle the same type of tender wintery feeling as Emma, and sure enough, the release starts off just as you would expect. Opener “Blood Bank” is a frostbitten love song of candy bars, a waning moon, and, of course, a fateful trip to the blood bank. “Beach Baby” is a post-breakup song that features a spiritual lap-steel guitar outro that personifies loss and contemplation. “Babys” is centered around an ever-mounting piano line with lyrics that bear almost as many exclamation points as a Sufjan Stevens song title. And finally, the EP’s fourth track “Woods” closes out the release and signals the first time Justin Vernon fully stakes his claim on the electronic embrace. 

“Woods” is lyrically-straightforward, containing one verse repeated eleven times:

I'm up in the woods
I'm down on my mind
I'm building a still
To slow down the time 

It’s interesting (and worth noting here) because the song contains almost no traditional instrumentation whatsoever. Initially singing straightforwardly, Vernon croons the first verse with a voice that’s dripping in autotune. 

The second verse finds Vernon harmonizing with himself, singing the same words in two different styles with two different emotions. The third verse adds an additional take, and so on until a multitude of different vocalizations are all flowing and emoting simultaneously. By the time the song reaches the halfway point, ghastly echoes reverberate through the background of the track, and the vocals at the front of the song are singing with even more passion, pain, and expression. As the end of the song nears, the momentum has built to a fever pitch and the autotuned cries all fade out into total silence. 

It’s a haunting and goosebump-inducing track. While “Woods” initially came across to me as the musical equivalent of a thought experiment (“let’s see how many times I can layer myself singing the same thing”), it ends up becoming a gut-wrenching and transformative piece of art. That’s probably why Kanye West tapped Vernon to close out his 2010 masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Using the same lyrics as the original song, Kanye and Vernon use a similar emotional build on “Lost In The World” as a gateway to an explosive hip-hop beat laid over Vernon’s autotuned crooning and bombastic drums. This song paved the way for future hip-hop collaborations with Kanye, but also Vernon’s later electronic work. 

“Woods” acted as a proof of concept that Vernon need not be tied to acoustic guitars, folk instrumentation, or even traditional song structures. Emotion and technology were enough.

Shifting Layers

745f803cb77ad87d7fdbac572148ee13.900x900x1.jpg

While Emma and Blood Bank are insular and inward-looking, Bon Iver’s 2011 self-titled record is the complete opposite. Massive, arid, and expansive, Bon Iver is a pivot from Vernon’s snow-covered origins, yet in retrospect feels like a completely logical stepping stone. 

Featuring swelling arrangements, atmospheric instrumentals, and sweeping vocals, my first listen of Bon Iver initially left me underwhelmed. As did my second listen. In fact, it took me around five years to fully-realize the brilliance contained within this record, all because it didn’t sound exactly like its folky predecessor. Now I hear the opening cascade of “Perth” and receive instant goosebumps. I see the brilliance of “Holocene” and recognize the sadness contained on songs like “Beth/Rest” are just as valid as anything on Emma… they’re just packaged differently.

Overall, Bon Iver might use less overt electronics than anything else in the rest of the band’s discography. Instead, it sees Vernon enlisting the help of his friends for a fuller and richer-sounding record that leans even harder into the choral flavors only briefly touched upon in Emma

While there may be less overt electronics, Bon Iver is a record of layers. Vocals are layered, instruments are layers, ideas are layered. There are airy horns and explosive drums. Background vocals echo far off in the distance as ornamental swirls overwhelm the senses. It’s a feast for the ears and ends up being a complicated record that’s dense yet emotionally bare. 

The album benefits from an obviously-improved budget when compared to Emma, but it finds Vernon exploring the possibilities that a studio brings. The different shapes his ideas can take outside of a traditional folk song, the different ways ideas can be transferred yet still be used to the same effect. The way melodies can be muddled, shifted, and played with until they’re nearly unrecognizable but still manage to come through… which leads to his next release.

The Arrival

61gmifSfGdL._SL1400_.png

On August 12th of 2016, the Bon Iver YouTube account unleashed two lyric videos onto the internet: “22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version]” and “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄ (Extended Version).” If the names alone didn’t give it away, these songs represented a massive departure from everything that came before them. The former was a flame-engulfed crooner accompanied by dueling English and Spanish subtitles, and the later was a glitched-out beatbox spitting out distorted lines and stuttering forward endlessly. 

The two songs represented the first new Bon Iver material in over five years, and fans consumed them voraciously, if not a little hesitantly. Drawing early comparisons to Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz, Radiohead’s Kid A, and Kanye West’s Yeezus, the two tracks were electronic, dissonant, and wholly unexpected. A left-field creation for which there was seemingly no precedent… But there was. 

The day these songs were uploaded, Bon Iver’s site was completely revamped. Mostly bare, but sporting a new “bio” section written not by Vernon, but Trever Hagen, a Bon Iver collaborator and one of Vernon’s childhood friends. This new page was a long-form update captured in a TextEdit screengrab that attempted to update fans on what had happened over the intervening years. It also framed the two new singles better than any traditional press release ever could:

So, in short, 22 A Million isn’t as simple as a change in sound; it was a spiritual inevitability.  

A Pathway to Understanding

71pGwd2qyWL._SL1200_.jpg

I’ve built this narrative of Vernon’s increasingly-electronic career in my head for some time now. The pieces were all there from the first twinge of autotune on “Wolves” to the ever-mounting brilliance of “Woods,” but I didn’t know what to make of these disparate pieces until that summer day in 2016. When Bon Iver’s third album finally released that fall, it wasn’t just a new record from a band I already loved; it was the missing piece of a puzzle and the actualization everything that came before it. 

Despite some early comparisons to genre-shifting albums of greats like Sufjan Stevens and Radiohead, I also remember reading speculation that 22, A Million wouldn’t be as good as his previous work. Of course anyone attracted to Emma’s soft-spoken folk music will find themselves lost in 22, A Million, but at that point, I had come around to Bon Iver after years of doubt and now knew to trust in Vernon completely. 

What Trever Hagen was saying is that 22, A Million isn’t actually that different from the records that came before it. If there’s any trend to Bon Iver’s discography, it’s that every Bon Iver project is an album without precedent. For Emma, Forever Ago sounded nothing like Bon Iver, and 22, A Million sounds nothing like either of its predecessors. The difference here is that 22 is a complete dismantling. The first two records at least existed in the same sonic realm. Songs used familiar structures, familiar sounds, and familiar language. They were different but still comparable. Emma was a folky and intimate snow-covered cabin. Bon Iver was a wide-open sun-drenched field. 22, A Million is a meteorite. 

b0ZfZgX7rbXVOIhbU3bd2CVenpK4mhwESrX3fffEnqQ.png

Where previous Bon Iver songs were built around simple guitar lines, mounting drums, and easy-to-grasp melodies, 22, A Million strips songs of everything but the melody and reconstructs them from the ground up. The instruments that that are present are twisted and distorted until they’re alien and unfamiliar. There are horns, and guitars, and percussion, but they’re scratched up and broken. There are vocal melodies, but they’re chopped up and shifted around. 

In fact, Vernon and his engineer Chris Messina invented a new instrument just for this record: The Messina. Better journalists than me have detailed the creation of this instrument, so I’ll just link them here along with this quote from its creator:

“Normally, you record something first and then add harmonies later. But Justin wanted to not only harmonize in real time, but also be able to do it with another person and another instrument. The result is one thing sounding like a lot of things. It creates this huge, choral sound.”

For the purposes of this article, the invention of the Messina was a major step in Vernon’s career. The Messina allowed not only for the creation of 22, A Million, but some of Vernon’s most beautiful songs. The instrument’s effect is felt all over the album, but one song in particular stands out as 22, A Million’s most breathtaking creation. A song that takes the stripped-back dichotomy of “Woods” one step further. A song that Vernon’s entire career feels like it was leading up to: “715 - CRΣΣKS.”

Lost in the Reeds

justin2.jpg

While  “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” and “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” are great songs on their own, they also had to serve double-duty and act as a primer to what 22, A Million stood for. Once those two tracks are out of the way, the record throws listeners into the proverbial deep end with “CRΣΣKS” which, Messina aside, is done entirely acapella. 

As most Bon Iver songs do, “Creeks” opens pointedly. 

Down along the creek
I remember something

These lines are sung straightforwardly, but set the scene for the song and introduce the recurring phrase “I remember something.” With each following line more and more of the Messenia leaks into the vocals until the third verse where Vernon reaches a near-yell as the song explodes with passion.

Toiling with your blood
I remember something
In B, un—rationed kissing on a night second to last
Finding both your hands as second sun came past the glass
And oh, I know it felt right and I had you in my grasp

Put simply, “715 - CRΣΣKS” is sublime. The song is a beautiful and one-of-a-kind creation that represents millions of branching paths all converging to create something practically too beautiful for this world. If Vernon hadn’t shown the propensity for electronics, his path wouldn’t have led to this song. If the Messina hadn’t been invented, this song wouldn’t have been possible. If Vernon hadn’t stowed himself away in that cabin over a decade ago, these feelings would not have been realized. 

“CRΣΣKS” is the ultimate marriage of humanity and technology. The entire time you’re witnessing Vernon’s emotion breaking through with each word and waiting to see what comes next. He leads the listener with each line, forcing them to lean in closer and closer until he violently breaks through the cold, indifferent wall of technology. It’s explosive, fragile, and heartbreaking. It’s a song that never fails to make me feel, and there’s something to be said for that. 

Never-Ending

justin4.jpg

Vernon’s journey from folk hero to electronic mastermind was a long and winding multi-year-long process. It’s a journey that continues to this day as he tours, performs the songs live, and even on side projects like Big Red Machine where Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner both encourage each other along their respective increasingly-electronic journeys

The saga of Bon Iver has been a thrilling story to watch over the past decade. From the first wintery guitar strums of Emma to the final piano notes of 22, A Million, Vernon has weaved a multi-part epic on heartache and the human condition. Each song peeled back another layer, revealing the human behind the music, and that unfolding has been a fascinating, touching, and rewarding thing to witness.

While I hope we have many more years of music from Vernon, 22, A Million is undeniably an incredible third-act in the discography of Bon Iver. It’s more than folk music. It’s more than indie music. It’s more than electronic music, art pop, or any other label you can place on it. 22, A Million is human music. 

Catholic Werewolves - You're Gonna Miss Everything Cool And Die Angry

a1876526317_10.jpg

Catholic Werewolves’ debut album begins with a collage of humanity. Within 30-seconds, clips of news reports, interviews, movies, and game shows all flash through the listener’s speakers, each punctuated by a short buzz of static. It’s like we’re listening in on an old TV controlled by an impatient person who’s channel surfing until they find something that captivates them properly. No sound bite lingers for more than a few seconds, but the result is something that feels both familiar and relevant: all the pop culture in the world isn’t enough when you don’t know what you’re searching for. 

34-seconds into the opening track, two cymbal taps signal the entrance of the trio who make their way into the frame like a band taking the stage at a house show. Soon the drums, guitar, and bass all whir up to speed, synching up and making way for a bombastic shouted vocal harmony. After a fiery verse, blistering guitar solo, and cathartic group chant, the song ends mid-thought and throws you directly into the remainder of the album. 

I first wrote about Catholic Werewolves back in December when this album was fresh off the presses. At the time, I held them up as an exemplary midwest band that embodied immaculate songwriting, tenacious spirit, and the DIY aesthetic. After spending even more time with their record, I’m happy to confirm that every one of these beliefs is true. 

Clocking in at a mere 15-minutes, You're Gonna Miss Everything Cool And Die Angry is one of the most compact, exciting, and well-thought-out records I’ve heard in recent months. The melodies are catchy, the choruses are sharp, and the instrumentals are tight. The Jeff Rosenstock and Joyce Manor influence is evident from the outset, but it’s also clear that Catholic Werewolves are putting their own spin on it.

Songs never wear on because they don’t have time to. Within the space of minutes, the band can deploy a concept, set the scene with minimal effort, and then bowl you over with everything that they just put into place. It’s economical songwriting that respects the listener’s time but also shows incredible talent and creativity. 

With every song hovering around the two-minute mark, the band spends the release exploring different sonic pallets in a free-wheeling and uncomplicated way. “Instrument of Torture” is a thrashy punk pit-starter. “Title on Screen” is a bouncy and clever song that breaks out into a rapid-fire final verse. “Tom Hanks” is a guitar-led song that somehow manages to be poppy while also hosting the most hardcore screamed vocals on the entire album. “Tuxedo T-Shirt” is a two-minute acoustic pit-stop centered around an infectious melody backed up by strings, piano, and harmonized vocals. “Emotional Sharingan” bears a hard-charging drumline with crashing cymbals and one of the record’s most catchy hooks. “Where Do You Think We Are?” uses a line from Scrubs to springboard into a narrative-driven brush with mortality that evokes the best parts of You, Me, and Everyone We Know. Finally, album-closer “Adult” is a biting, vicious, and hilarious takedown of complacency that sends the album off on punchy a high note.

It’s hard for me to think of a better pop-punk record than this in recent years. I know I’m a sucker for short albums, but the sheer amount of ideas that Catholic Werewolves manages to pack into such a short amount of time is absolutely astounding. Every song is varied, catchy, and speaks to a different concern. The lyrics are razor-sharp, and the production is immaculate. Most importantly, the songs never overstay their welcome and always leave you wanting more. 

One of the reasons the Emo scene feels so exciting right now is because it’s very economical. Bands are releasing more EPs, splits, and singles because those are more affordable. It leads to a genre that feels ever-shifting and constantly-growing where bands can release updates on their lives in short bursts rather than long, bloated stream-chasing records. It leads to a more supportive scene that feels more intimate and interconnected than ever before. 

On this record Catholic Werewolves didn’t half-ass a collection of songs; they honed these tracks down to their bare components and bundled them up in a compact package that’s simultaneously quick to consume and artistically-satiating. It’s an inspiring, accessible, and creative force, and that’s the type of art we need right now. 

When Musicians Tweet

13a.png

There’s an old adage that every musician wants to be a stand-up and every comic wants to be a rockstar. While this is probably a case of “the grass is always greener,” sometimes you’ll find someone who manages to excel in both categories. 

Luckily platforms like Twitter have made it easier than ever for musicians to prove their comedic chops, even if it’s just within the space of a 280 character message nonchalantly fired off from the comfort of a rest stop toilet. Some bands may relegate their social media usage to promoting their newest album or upcoming concerts, but (unsurprisingly) some of the most fulfilling Twitter follows belong to bands who also to use the platform the same way that I do: shitposting.

As great as it is to know when new music is coming from a band you follow, it’s almost more rewarding to find out that an artist you love shares the same sense of humor as you. Social media has allowed us to peek inside each other’s heads, and sometimes what you’ll find is so unexpected that you can’t help but laugh. Whether it’s dumb puns, depressing realizations, or just funny observations spurred by the never-ending drawl of tour life, there is occasionally some gold to be found in between tour dates and album promo.  

Without further ado, these are some of the funniest, most iconic, and just plain goofy tweets from musicians paired with their hyper-serious press photos. Because at the end of the day, bad jokes bind us all.


A Guide to Supporting Bands in the Streaming Age

guide4.png

The landscape for how music is consumed has changed unrecognizably in the past 10 years. When we started the label we were selling hundreds of CDs (imagine that?!). Nowadays streaming is a big focus and can make a huge difference to whether we break even on a release or not, and if a band gets heard outside their immediate scene. This isn't meant to be an attack on streaming, I'm a big fan, it's super convenient and I've discovered loads of great bands through Spotify. But the reality is payment rates for streams are tiny (£0.003-4 a play). 99% of streaming income goes to the top 10% of tracks and we're participating in a system which only works financially for those at the top and leaves those at the bottom unheard and unpaid! 

It looks like that system is sticking around for a while, so here are a few ideas for how to support artists you like and try to level the playing field a bit. 


Be An Active Listener

Playlists, algorithms, 'radio' playlists all work to highlight those lucky few who get handpicked or get enough data to enter the recommendation algorithms. If you never break that threshold you're destined to remain in '<1000' streams territory. 

Listen
Listen to small artists, listen to ones you already like, actively check out ones you haven't heard, listen to their tracks in full (don't skip through), save their songs / albums to your library. 

Use Playlists
Set up some playlists for songs you like, maybe separate them by genre. It doesn't matter if anyone apart from you listens to the playlist, Spotify picks up on what tracks are on the same lists together and will use that data for their recommendation algorithms. 

Turn Off Auto Play!
You know when you finish listening to an album and it starts auto playing similar songs (usually from the lucky handful of top artists in that sub-genre)? It's nice not have an awkward silence, but it does serve to inflate the play count of those already popular artists. By not using it, you're choosing what to listen to and who to support. 

Discover
If you're looking to discover new music, by all means check out Discover Weekly, Release Radar and other recommendation systems. But also try listening to your mates playlists, look through related artists, listen to what's come out recently on labels you like, check out what blogs are recommending, read reviews in zines / MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL / Razorcake, look through the Bandcamp homepage. There is endless good shit out there and the best stuff is not necessarily what's being directly recommended to you. 


Share 

The influence of traditional media is dwindling, the influence of online music websites is dwindling, how many people actually look outside their own social media bubble anymore? The reach of bands and business Facebook pages has basically dropped to nothing unless they're willing to pay for it.

Your personal social media probably has more influence on the tastes of your friends than anything else! If you like a song, tell your mates, if you like a video show your mates, if you're going to a gig invite your mates or at least encourage them to check out the bands. If you have a playlist of new music, share it with people! If you're at a gig, take a photo / video, stick it on Instagram (obviously try not to be obnoxious about it, we've all been stuck behind someone at a gig that can't put their fucking phone away). If you're playing a record at home stick a photo on social media. 

If you do a blog / write reviews, I love you, you truly are doing awesome work! But it doesn't need to take that kind of time commitment to help share music, a simple repost and "If you like 'X Band' / 'Y Band"' type recommendation really helps. 


Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

The reality is most artists aren't making any significant money from streaming. If you can afford to support in other ways it will make a huge difference to their ability to continue touring and continue making music. Music will always be created regardless of the financial returns, it's fun and its cathartic, but a healthy music economy means that making music isn't only for those privileged enough to have spare cash and spare time to put into it. 

Buy The Record
I'm sure you've all heard about the so-called 'vinyl revival', and yes in total record sales are higher than they've been in years. But just because everyone's dad is buying Led Zep reissues at Tesco, the reality is small bands and labels are struggling. There are so many records coming out now, pressing turnaround times are going up, prices are going up. If you like physical music, buy that record you've been streaming constantly! 

Buy Advance Tickets to Gigs
Touring is pretty much the only consistent revenue stream for most bands! So go see them, buy advance tickets when the shows get announced, and try to bring some of your mates along. Services like Songkick do a great job of emailing you when bands you've been listening to on Spotify / Apple Music are playing nearby, so sign up for that as well as actively looking at venue listings and following local promoters. 

Buy Merchandise
Apart from touring, merch is probably the next most lucrative way bands have to make money. So pick something up at a show, check out their Bandcamp page and see if you can order online. 

I know some of this shit is obvious, and hopefully this isn't teaching you how to suck eggs! You have more power than you think to help out musicians you like, and it doesn't take a huge amount of time or money. No one's getting rich off this shit, bands you perceive to be doing well are probably still struggling, your support & enthusiasm can mean the world.


 I love talking about this kind of stuff so if you have any thoughts / ideas hit me up - andrew@specialistsubjectrecords.co.uk 

A PDF of this is available free at shop.specialistsubjectrecords.co.uk. Words by Andrew Horne, layout by Kay Stanley. Specialist Subject Records is an independent record label and shop based in Bristol UK. Follow them on Twitter here.

Interbellum - Dead Pets, Old Griefs

a3065873995_10.jpg

Life becomes a cruel joke when you look at it from a cosmic perspective. Our time here is finite, and the only things we know for sure are that you were born, you will die, and a bunch of bad things will happen in between. 

On one hand, you could learn these facts and they could make you feel small. That you are infinitesimal. That you don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. On the other hand, you could learn these facts and be comforted by them. Be comforted by the fact that you are infinitesimal. Be comforted by the fact that you don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Because if this life is all there is, then everything you’ve ever dreaded will pass. All of your mistakes will be forgotten, and every bad feeling will dissipate. 

Enter Dead Pets, Old Griefs.

Life is a gift, but it comes at a price. The horror of existence is as much of a reality as the beauty. Life’s scarring experiences aren’t something you can bargain away; they’re part of the deal. Experiencing sadness, loss, and displacement are guaranteed at some point in your life, and Dead Pets, Old Griefs has put that feeling into words. 

The second album by Lebanese singer-songwriter Karl Mattar under the name Interbellum, Dead Pets, Old Griefs sees Mattar partnering with Fadi Tabbal and a host of musician friends to make a grand statement of love and loss. 

Focusing on the minute details of the human experience, Mattar weaves visceral tales about navigating the waters of life. With lyrics of healing bruises, red sunsets, and thawing snowfields, the language used is vivid and evocative. Your mind is drawn into the scenes being depicted, which unfold like canvas paintings from a past life. 

As the stories of each song unfurl, the listener begins to place themselves into the world of the album. Decaying particles linger. Shadows cling to the walls. The feeling is dark and inescapable but captured perfectly. 

It’s a release that blurs perception and bleeds into reality. As you find yourself listening to it, your mind will shoot from the experiences contained within the song to your own. It evokes a deep feeling of connectivity between its author and the listener. 

As these flashes of distant lives move throughout your mind, the songs also may evoke a feeling of familiarity, not just between your life and the songs, but between the songs and other music. From Sparklehorse-esque opening track “Distortion” to a pitch-perfect Yo La Tengo-style duet on “Ready To Dissolve.” There are hints of Daniel Jonhston, Vampire Weekend, and Car Seat Headrest just to name a few. The result is an album that feels wide-ranging, familiar, and distinctly indie. 

By the second half of the album, Mattar settles into a heartfelt Mark Linkous-style delivery as he continues to wrestle with the questions of his own existence. As the moments unfold, everything leads to the final track “Weight of Winter” which utilizes airy emo guitarwork as Mattar depicts an escape over a steadily-marching drumline. 

Dead Pets, Old Griefs is a reflective journey of the self. It forces the listener to face life’s inevitable sadness and loss and leaves them no choice but to lean into it. While that may be an uncomfortable journey for some, for others it could be meditative or even revelatory. 

With a title like Dead Pets, Old Griefs, one might expect this album to be an existentially-painful bummer, but I choose to view the album optimistically. Dead Pets, Old Griefs is a reminder to enjoy every moment of our finite time and to hold close the things that are dearest to us. It’s a reminder of the light that makes the darkness bearable and the beauty in life that makes it all worth it.

That’s a reminder we all could use sometimes.