Interbellum - Dead Pets, Old Griefs

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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.

Focus / No Angel: Charli XCX’s Two-Track Masterpiece

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Charli XCX has two careers. Her top songs on Spotify are “Girls” (by Rita Ora, featuring Charli, Cardi B, and Bebe Rhexa), “Dirty Sexy Money” (by David Guetta, featuring Charli and French Montana), and “Moonlight” (by Lil Xan, featuring Charli). Her most successful album was 2014’s Sucker, which I enjoy, but sounds just about the same as every song on the pop charts at the time. This year, she toured with Taylor Swift (I love Taylor, but I wouldn’t exactly call her innovative), playing her hits like “I Love It,” “Boom Clap,” and “Fancy,” which were all bolstered by soundtracks or memes. Despite what this list of features may look (and sound) like, Charli XCX is also one of the most innovative and unique popstars making music today, and there’s no better proof of this than her two-track pop masterpiece “Focus / No Angel.”.

In 2017, Charli XCX released two mixtapes largely produced by PC Music’s A.G. Cook and SOPHIE, which harken back the more experimental bent of her early mixtapes and debut album, True Romance. The tapes sound like the pop music of the future and heavily feature other loves of the alt-pop scene including Carly Rae Jepsen, Cupcakke, Brooke Candy, Tove Lo, and ABRA. This year, she has expanded on this alternative catalog with a series of singles including “5 in the Morning,” “Girls Night Out,” “1999,” and finally, “Focus / No Angel.” This two-track single is my 24th most listened to “album” of the last year with 122 plays and counting. Again, it’s only two tracks. And it’s only been out since late June.

“Focus / No Angel” is fiercely infectious. “Focus,” the A.G. Cook-produced opener, is repetitive in the best way. There are only 65 unique words in the songs three-and-a-half minute running time, but somehow Charli’s delivery (combined with the instrumental) make it equal parts catchy and captivating. I played it in the car for my 58-year-old dad, and his only response was “I don’t think this was made for me.” That’s right, Dad. It wasn’t. It was made for me. It’s great in a DJ set—the DJ played it during my college’s LCD Soundsystem-themed ball this fall, and I absolutely lost my shit. It’s also great just blasting in my headphones while I do homework, because I know it so well at this point that I can listen to it even while I’m reading—though there are no guarantees that I won’t put down my work at any point because the urge to dance is too strong.

“No Angel” has a bit more mythos attached to it than “Focus,” as it is one of the Charli XCX tracks that has alternately been leaked and performed live over the last few years, compelling fans to beg for its release. I, by principle, do not listen to leaks, so I hadn’t actually heard the track before its release, but I was aware of its legendary status, and it fully lives up the hype. It shows off a bit more of Charli’s party-focused songwriting mentality and the hook, “I’m no angel, but I can learn,” references the more self-reflective parts of her 2017 mixtapes. All I can say is, she’s got me and she won’t let me go.

I hadn’t really kept track of Charli XCX until 2018. I’ll admit, I was one of those teens enchanted by “Boom Clap” on the Fault In Our Stars soundtrack, but by last year and the disappointing release of Taylor Swift’s reputation, I’d drifted a bit from my poptimistic roots. Charli was all I needed to get right back into it. I listened to Number 1 Angel for the first time around January, and then Pop 2 a couple of months later. I quickly became enamored with Charli’s future-forward pop, but I found myself disappointed with the first of the 2018 singles. The hip-hop-flavored “5 In The Morning” seemed sort of formulaic, repeating the ‘party all night’ sentiments of previous songs like “Die Tonight” and “After The Afterparty.” “Focus / No Angel,” however, in its incessant repetitiveness and format as a two-track single, is the kind of project that begs to be left on repeat. Just when you might get bored by “Focus”’ chorus, you’re drawn in once again by the hook of “No Angel.” The two tracks balance each other out perfectly and not only prove that Charli XCX is the future of pop, but also work together to form one of the best “albums” of the year.


Delaney Neal is a college student splitting her time between Portland, OR, and the Bay Area. You can usually find her listening to Car Seat Headrest and thinking about her dogs. She’s on Instagram @laneyrse.

Liance - The Rat House

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The most formative years of your life seem to happen when you least expect them. Despite the narrative spun by popular culture, the most important events in your life are not always confined to childhood, or your first relationship, or any other “expected” demarcation point. You don’t get to plan the twists in your life, the only thing you can control is how you react to them. 

No matter what form these events take in your own life, we often don’t recognize them for what they are until they’re over. They become symbolic in our own narrative. One monument within an ever-changing mythology that we venture back to, draw from, and reflect upon for decades to come. On his newest EP as Liance, Brighton-based musician James Li has crystalized this time in his life and put it on display for the entire world to see. 

In contrast to his ambient project Ministry of Interior Spaces, Liance exists as a more autobiographical musical entity, weaving personal tales of grief, love, and loss all of which pull inspiration from his own life. Recorded between 2014 and 2018, The Rat House acts as a companion piece to Bronze Age of the Nineties, both of which recount Li’s time during college in Michigan and the hyper-formative events surrounding him at that time. 

We should all be so lucky to have the feeling of our college experience remembered in such a beautiful and undegredated form. From the people you meet to the specific details of one night’s drunken adventures, college contains some of the most important memories of your life, and often they only live inside your head. As the years tick by those memories get fainter and fainter, so it’s best to document them now before the whos and the whys become unclear

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In The Rat House’s 1-minute opening track “Bernie Rally,” Li recalls a chance encounter with someone at a Bernie Sanders rally. While the details date the song to a specific time and place, the feeling he manages to capture is a universal truth. A single spark that comes from a seemingly-divine meeting, an evening spent together, and then nothing. It’s a compact tale that opens the album on a bittersweet but lovingly-emotional note. 

Title track “The Rat House” acts as the album’s lush centerpiece, a multi-layered work pulling a wide range of instruments and wrapping them up into a single reflective package. Beginning with an uneasy guitar, the song grows over time and introduces a slowly-mounting drumline alongside gorgeous brass accompaniment all while retaining the same core melody and mood. It’s a single-song journey that aches with passionate beauty before exploding into sound, light, color, and life. 

Songs like “Milk” and “Julian” serve to further the plot of Li’s life through vignettes of abstracted beauty. Whether accompanied by banjo, dulcimer, or piano, each track adds on to the mythology of his own created life, sketching a portrait for the audience to absorb and internalize. 

The language Li uses throughout the release is both careful and loving. Lyrics like “I like the pictures that you take / I want to live in pictures you take” illustrate a distant form of appreciation that’s tapered off into something else entirely. Similarly, lines like “This house is stained with me and you” stand on their own and prod the listener into thinking deeply about the story being weaved while simultaneously projecting their own experience onto it. 

The Rat House is a beautiful release, and clocking in at only 14 minutes, it’s a marvel that Li was able to pack such a lovely amount of well-lived feeling into such a short space. It’s a heart-rending exposition of the self, and one that can only exist through music. It’s self-documentation of the highest degree. 

Sometimes remembering our own past is the only way to move forward, and The Rat House is a wonderful way to capture the multi-layered flash of one’s college years. While the album only documents Li’s specific experiences, its themes, tales, and feelings are unshakably universal. There’s likely to be at least a few moments in the EP’s 14 minutes that will send a rush of blood to long-forgotten memory in a distant corner of your brain. 

The Rat House is a beautifully-crafted release that impresses its feelings upon you and leaves you better for it. Years compressed into minutes. A lifetime of feelings that you didn’t even know you shared with the rest of the world. 

It’s rare to find a piece of art that feels so personal and relevant to your own life while also managing to tell the creator’s story effectively. Throughout this EP we see an artist who is tapped into something bigger, a universal struggle not just for happiness, but for life. The Rat House is the sound of hundreds of memories being unearthed, and it’s here to take you on that journey whenever you're ready.

InCrest - The Ladder The Climb The Fall

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Sensory overload has become a fact of life in a post-smartphone world. We live in a time where binging and excess have become the norm while pause and reflection have fallen by the wayside. It’s not that history isn’t valued, it’s that we literally don’t have time to revel in it. When the entirety of recorded music is a single click away, there’s a weird pressure to stay “up to date,” and it often feels like we don’t have enough time to look back and reflect on what has brought us here. In the midst of this hyper-consumer culture, there are a select handful of artists who possess a unique ability to shake us by the shoulders and remind us of what we’re missing, and that’s precisely what InCrest is offering up on The Ladder The Climb The Fall.

Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark, InCrest is here to ensure no one forgets the majesty of the 90’s rock greats. Inspired by some of the genre’s best like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam, InCrest’s newest album acts as a 39-minute time machine, a full-bodied reminder of how and why this era of music worked so well. 

The record starts off like a powderkeg on “No Second Chance” where an explosive drumline and lively riff throw the listener headlong into the band’s fast-paced style. They up the ante even further on “Nightcrawler,” the album’s lead single which boasts a hard-charging instrumental that builds up to an anthemic chorus.

Lead singer Malte Slywest’s vocals are immediately reminiscent of Scott Weiland’s grungy rasp; meanwhile the guitar, bass, and drums fuse together into an impactful force. The entire instrumental feels tightly-honed but also has enough of an edge that it retains that “throwback” style while simultaneously feeling uniquely-modern. 

Throughout the album, every band member gets a chance to show their respective chops on various tracks whether it’s the rapid bassline on “Aces” or the crashing cymbals on “100 and Ten.” More than that, the band as a unit show their range on songs like “Highway” and “Neversleep” which provide the audience a temporary breather as the album’s two slower-paced tracks. 

It’s nice to know that in today's fast-paced, ever-moving, always-online world there’s a band like InCrest carrying the torch of a seemingly-forgotten genre. The Ladder The Climb The Fall serves as a reminder of a simpler time in music, and a simpler time in the world. They say those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and InCrest are here to make sure we never do.

Symmetrix - Being There

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Everyone’s truth sounds different. For some, it’s poetic confessions placed over a single acoustic guitar. For others, it’s expansive instrumental music that encapsulates what words cannot. For Marita Ryan, it’s hypnotic electronic music, soulful instrumentals, and inspiring words of personal belief.

Hailing from Melbourne Australia, Ryan began recording under the name Symmetrix back in 2013 with a vision of creating something that could combine both her love of electronica and indie pop, with a bit of rock music thrown in for good measure. Influenced by everything from 80’s synth-pop to alternative and shoegaze, Symmetrix has evolved into a unique fusion of indie and electronica in the vein of Half Waif or Hatchie.

Musical influences aside, Symmetrix’s upcoming album Being There is a wholly-unique and ever-shifting release that’s sure to surprise listeners of every musical background. Whether it’s the betrayal of a close friend, an ongoing battle with inner demons, or the impact of technology on our culture, Ryan’s lyrics run the gamut but offer a comprehensive sketch of everything that’s on her mind. 

All recorded over precise instrumentation, each song is a self-contained journey that sounds nothing like what’s come before it. From a radiant synth beat on “From Here On End” to a downright Frusciante-esque guitar solo on “Where Have You Gone,” the range of influences on display is vast and comprehensive. 

Everyone's journey is different, as is how we present it to the world. We’re lucky to live in a world where artists like Symmetrix can crystallize their truth for the rest of us to live through.