Welcome to a brand new and improved Beandon’s Musical Nook, the one place on campus for in-depth, exhaustive opinions of the newest releases in rock, jazz, experimental … and just about every thing else. Brandon Rupp (additionally identified by his mononymous musical title “beandon,” below which he releases music and DJs as KZSU’s Pupil Music Director) explores a brand new title and provides unfiltered suggestions, whatever the style. Be happy to ship him music; he’d love to have a look!
Within the city of Wallsocket, Michigan, there are small-town staples like turnpikes, supermarkets and picket fences. Nonetheless, just like the city of Lumberton in David Lynch’s 1986 movie “Blue Velvet,” there lies a darker, extra sinister present below the deceptively conventional façade.
Odds are you’ll run into quite a lot of distinctive Wallsocket characters, resembling a crystal-meth-addled white-collar thief or a billionaire’s nepotistic daughter who shoplifts from CVS. However probably the most attention-grabbing factor about Wallsocket? It’s not an actual place.
Wallsocket, Michigan is the truth is the fictional heart of “Wallsocket,” the bold sophomore launch by San Francisco-born, New York-based musician April Harper Gray, generally known as “underscores.” A capital-C idea album, “Wallsocket” stands out as one of many boldest and most original inventive statements this yr.
“Wallsocket” is an absolute buffet for music criticism, that includes an overabundance of idiosyncratic — and infrequently contradictory — components to chew on. This evaluate might proceed lots of of various methods, however I’m most serious about how Gray has grown from her first report, “fishmonger,” to this sprawling idea album launched in September.
Whereas “fishmonger” was an completed lo-fi launch that landed her gigs at massive identify festivals like Lollapalooza and collaborations with Dylan Brady of 100 gecs and Benny Blanco, “Wallsocket” is an entire left-field swing I can not assist however try and unpack. I think that the dramatic enchancment in high quality — from nice to masterful — comes on account of Gray refining her immense musical vocabulary to match her distinctive lyrical imagery.
A speciality for this column has been highlighting music that recklessly evades style. There are few issues extra spectacular than artists who’re so versatile that they can’t be pinned down below a label or two. On “Wallsocket,” Gray gleefully mixes dozens of disparate components: the high-pitched vocals of hyperpop, the adventurous sampling of plunderphonics, glitchy manufacturing and a punkish vitality that propels practically each observe into the stratosphere. It’s in all probability the primary stadium-ready bed room pop album; it options the one folks songs affected by dubstep wobbles.
However the album isn’t a multitude, and these decisions aren’t with out purpose. Gray makes use of her musical versatility to paradoxically complement distinctive vignettes in every track.
Most of those songs contact on themes and matters I’ve by no means even heard talked about earlier than. For instance, the rocking opener, “Cops and Robbers,” discusses how as-seen-on-TV “ski masks and gun” financial institution robberies have gone out of fashion, whereas inner embezzlement by an worker grew to become extra possible. It’s in all probability the primary track to give attention to “deceased member of the family identification theft.”
The ironic deployment of contrasting types is placed on full show: the comparatively mundane topic of white-collar crime is paired with the album’s most aggressive instrumental, that includes glitchy breaks and closely distorted guitars backing Gray’s snarling punk vocals. That is additionally in all probability the album’s catchiest track, with the easy recommendation to “get on the within: you gotta do it like me.”
One other track that closely performs ironic distinction, “Shoot to kill, kill your darlings,” questions the motives of prosperous individuals who be a part of the navy: “You’re the son of a lawyer and the son of a physician / With desires of holding a gun and leaping out of a chopper. / And everybody here’s a poor child proper out of highschool / However you’re completely different from the remainder of your friends / You’re the one one who is aware of why they’re right here.”
Gray’s skillful writing balances critical class commentary with darkish humor, each of that are additional difficult by the upbeat indietronica instrumental (with percussion sampled from actual cocking weapons) and dinky Casio keyboard refrains.
“Shoot to kill, kill your darlings” takes a honest flip with its empathetic ending: a looping pattern of “I simply don’t need you to die,” piercing by the defend of irony. Gray extends an arm to the topics of her tales, valuing their lives as actually value analyzing.
“Wallsocket” is much less of a coherent narrative as it’s a collection of quick tales in musical kind. Nonetheless, Gray’s perfectionist skills convey the complete mission collectively: she performed the entire devices, wrote the entire songs and even single-handedly produced the overwhelming majority of the album. On account of this management, each “i” is dotted; each “t” crossed.
Like a movie auteur, every of her distinctive turns or repeated motifs feels purposeful, and even cinematic. Lyrically, Gray gracefully sweeps her digital camera’s viewfinder by the city of “Wallsocket” to bodily assemble a whole world across the listener.
The music movies for this report have additionally been among the many better of the yr: Shot largely with a single iPhone, they’re a mixture of a David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” and a Lars von Trier movie. In sure photographs, the director straps the iPhone to a drone and truly sweeps by the city.
I wish to emphasize that Gray’s lyrics lengthen far previous the extremely low bar we’ve set for what’s poetry set to music. Gray makes use of her prowess properly. The seven-minute centerpiece “Geez Louise” balances themes of gender identification, non secular trauma and the results of colonization within the album’s most private second.
The harrowing “Johnny Johnny Johnny,” a first-person recounting by a younger lady who was groomed and molested by the titular pedophile Johnny, might have simply fallen aside within the palms of a much less proficient author. The principle chorus is predicated across the childhood recreation of Johnny Whoop. By Gray’s invocation of the sport, she highlights the innocence of the narrator and alludes to a baby’s tendency to comply with orders (as is the crux of the sport).
However the track shortly turns into darker: “And as soon as he advised me he was so glad / That I hadn’t been touched but / I exited my physique and it obtained up off the carpet / and it stored on telling lies till they obtained me out the door.”
Right here, the traumatized narrator’s depersonalization manifests in her altered standpoint (her physique changing into an “it”) for the latter two strains. Such empathetic decisions of language will not be one thing you see usually in music, particularly not within the midst of the yr’s catchiest dance-pop instrumental — as soon as extra, ironic distinction between the music and lyrics comes into the equation.
Each track on “Wallsocket” sees Gray’s robust consideration to element. This album accommodates imagery and a sheer sense of scope that isn’t usually related to fashionable music. Over the course of 12 songs and 55 minutes, the listener lives 12 lives, experiences 12 defining moments.
With the monumental “Wallsocket,” Gray has carried out one thing greater than craft empathetic, fiercely written vignettes or hook-laden, genre-hopping pop songs; she has created a world — and a creative voice — that she will uniquely name her personal.
Editor’s Notice: This text is a evaluate and accommodates subjective opinions, ideas and critiques.