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Rachel Ledesma

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Rachel Ledesma (RachelLedesma)

  • Email: ledesma@chapman.edu
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  • Registered On :2018-06-05 20:39:18
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  • Author ID: 298

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There’s nothing escapist about Vacationer, the band who—despite its name—has opted out of sandy beaches and tourists traps for the ultimate staycation: a trip to a new state of mind. With the Philadelphia dream-pop band’s third studio album, Mindset, it’s clear it’s a trip worth taking. There’s no getaway destination, only a hazy soundscape of dreamy vocals and warm melodies that seeks to get lost in; it’s an escape within oneself, an invitation to be here, wherever that may be. 

The album comes after four years of self-reflection since their 2014 release, Relief, capturing that same breezy energy in a completely new sound. It’s the result of frontman, Ken Vasoli’s, new approach to music-making, an ongoing process in which he found himself stepping into the production realm, overcoming false starts and completing a majority of the album on his own. Working closely with producer Daniel Schlett (Ghostface Killah’s 36 Seasons), Vasoli intricately interwove numerous samples and layers of instrumentation into a complex web of sound. But Vasoli maintains a clear vision, never getting caught up in one particular sound or melody; he knows what he’s doing and where his head is at. 

And that’s apparent from the first notes of the album’s dreamy opener, “Entrance,” which quickly envelops the listener in a world of mellow synth and euphonic harp—the inside of Vasoli’s mind, his happy place. It’s a fitting beginning for an album dedicated to mental well-being, the track equal parts self-reflection and optimistic thinking. All anxieties are calmly swept away with Vasoli’s positive perspective; there’s no room for overthinking, only feeling. Vasoli’s relaxed and energetic voice reflects that feeling; he’s ready to open his mind and happy to be where he is right now, unworried by the past or the future. He’s entered a mindset unweighted by daily burdens, taking everything for what it is, seeing clearly for the first time in his life. “Closer to it then I’ve ever been in my life,” Vasoli repeats throughout the song, the smile on his face heard in his voice, his clear headspace heard in the music. 

The positivity flows into the upbeat, “Magnetism,” the album’s first single, setting the album’s direction in place, while exploring the newfound experimental sounds of Vacationer. Backed by a retro uptempo rhythm, Vasoli fearlessly embraces the mysteries of love and accepts the indescribable force that brought him his lover. The song abruptly cuts into the first chiming notes of “Euphoria,” capturing the album’s overall feeling as Vasoli basks in the now, losing himself in every moment until the song fades into silence, then the first energetic beats of “Being Here,” the album’s heart and soul. Sounds of the ocean accompany a lush blend of psychedelic synth, Vasoli’s gentle voice a hazy presence. “Being here means seeing clearly/Being here means calming down,” Vasoli reminds himself in the chorus, acknowledging how simultaneously easy and difficult it is to slip into a certain mindset. But Vasoli pays attention to his reminder, remaining in the present and forgetting all negative doubt: “Seeing the trees for the leaves/And all the grass for the weeds.” It’s Vasoli at his most self-knowledgable and Vacationer at their best. 

Though their scope is large and only expanding, it’s the small moments that matter most to Vacationer. On “Strawberry Blonde,” though the first verses appear as though Vasoli is addressing a lover, it becomes clear that he is singing to his dog, describing a connection found nowhere else but in the creature standing in the doorway waiting for his owner to return. Its sweetness is matched by its vulnerability, heard similarly in “Late Bloomer,” in which Vasoli transforms confessions into means of gratefulness. “Just a late bloomer/Glad to be blooming at all/It could not have come sooner/Grateful to be opening up,” Vasoli professes, his optimistic mind unable to be shaken. 

To Vacationer, it’s all about perspective. As heard in the rhythmic “Turning” and the groovy “Blue Dreaming,” every answer lies inside, waiting to be found; it’s merely a matter of changing your mind. The album’s pop tempo slows with “Green,” an endearing tale of emotional transformation, of turning rust into green. It’s an enchanting lullaby of the difficulty of depressive thoughts and the hope of happiness. Instead of running away from those thoughts, Vasoli finds peace inside, choosing to look in rather than out, to be here. 

Self-reflection reaches its apex with the closing track, “Companionship,” the most lyrically complex song off the album. Vasoli finds himself opening up even more, discussing the struggles of loneliness, disengagement and depression that once occupied his former mindset. Through his vulnerability, Vasoli transcends the negativity, free from “the depths of paranoia and onto the surface of honesty.” It’s there that Vasoli discovers the answer in form of another individual, a companion. “Not on my own anymore,” Vasoli blissfully sings along to shimmering harp, delighting in his current state of mind that he no longer has to share alone. What Vasoli has found is unity, the joining of two sets of minds into one. Though the music fades from dreamy harp arpeggios to silence, the mindset lives on, in this moment and the next, begging to get lost in and understood for the importance of right now. It’s a vacation that asks you to get away from it all, only to end up finding yourself. 

There’s an entire great big world out there, beyond the suburbs, Maryland and everything 19-year-old Lindsey Jordan knows—but she can’t help but wonder if her crush is thinking of her. It’s the beating heart of the paradoxical teenage experience, the interwoven feelings of longing and uncertainty, arrogance and shame, so often reduced to clichés. But Jordan, otherwise known as Snail Mail, makes it feel brand new, partially because it all is. With her band’s debut album, Lush, Jordan embraces that sense of unknowingness, familiar territory for the teenager still growing-up, holding on and waiting to let go. She doesn’t hesitate to ask vulnerable questions, to let her voice wail, to confess undying unrequited love, to get lost in hypnotic guitar rhythms; she embraces uncertainty with a rare honesty, taking control of every note and feeling, maturing before our very ears. 

Despite all the confusion, Jordan knows who she is. “I know myself and I’ll never love anyone else,” she proclaims on the album’s first single, “Pristine.” It’s a confidence heard in the song’s powerful chords and guitar riffs, second-nature to the guitarist trained under Mary Timony (Helium, Ex Hex). And when Jordan sings out, “I could be anyone,” cleanly backed by bandmates, Ray Brown and Alex Bass, she’s not doubting but declaring. In just a statement, Jordan realizes the magnitude of time and being, of who she is and who she can be. It’s a revelation she carries on throughout the album, but has its roots outside it, in Snail Mail’s earlier days. 

Released in 2016, Snail Mail’s first EP, Habit, is marker of just how far the band has come both musically and lyrically, but more a reminder of the force that is Jordan’s perspective. On Lush, we hear that same perspective—only this time, it’s expanded. She sings to “you”s and “green eyes,” reminiscing on better times, of melancholic suburban parties, of moments shared only between her and a lover; she shares her whole world with the listener, every small detail included. That’s why it feels so real—because it is, every last bit. 

Where Lush stands out is not in the answers it provides, but the questions it asks. “Don’t you like me for me?” “What could ever be enough?” “Who’s your type of girl?” “Do you love me?” Her voice just on the verge of cracking, Jordan asks these unflinchingly of a subject never to respond—how could one answer? And Jordan knows that, her questions often becoming means of self-reflection, much as the album’s moments of bittersweet pain are vehicles for personal growth. “I’m not into sometimes,” Jordan’s voice sincerely releases at the end of “Heat Wave,” having answered all her questions with a realization of the person and lover she is. 

That doesn’t make the rejections she feels any less painful or her thoughts any less insecure. “Stupid me,” Jordan repeats over and over again in the final moments of “Golden Dream.” It’s not directed at a particular incident or moment, but rather all of it—and we feel the same dread and self-hate with each repetition, our mind buzzing with memories we try so hard to suppress. Jordan does the opposite; she transforms fear into hope, heartbreak into courage to love. It’s the only way she knows how to move on. 

And Jordan isn’t trying to speed things up. As of now, Jordan is still young, still just being heard. Unlike most her age, Jordan is unashamed of her youth. She doesn’t try to be anything she’s not, to sweep the daily trivialities of teenage life under the rug. She plays it for what is is, because she knows it’ll all be over soon. 

As sentiments shift between what could have been to what will be, each feeling flowing into the next, emotional intensity reaches its tidal wave high with, “Deep Sea.” Jordan’s voice is magnetic, her words drawn out, leaving time to think, to fall into one’s own daydream. She once again finds herself realizing her place within the universe and just how special finding that one in a world full of anyones is. 

Jordan closes the album with a return to the beginning, a fitting end for the teenager still processing it all. The album’s first track, “Intro,” a sleepy, stagnant opener, Jordan’s voice more a ghost than a presence, like the feelings are still waking up and taking form, is reworked into “Anytime.” Though the lyrics and melody are the same, the feeling has completely changed. Jordan’s wide awake—she’s said what she has to say and is eager to get the last few words out. Her voice is unprotected, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and organ heard faintly in the background; we hear her for who she is. And though the words escaping her mouth are heavy, her voice is light; she’s let it it all go, lost somewhere in the music. 

But she’s still a teenager, and there are some things, first love included, she’ll never be able to let go. “And still forgive you anytime,” Jordan confesses before the album’s last few notes. It’s a gut-punching sincerity that cuts deeper than any guitar line or cymbal crash could. It’s Lindsey Jordan, loud and clear. 

Though seasons come and go, Jimmy Whispers lives in a perpetual summer of hell. Released back in March of 2015, Summer in Pain is a 23-minute lo-fi tale of the apocalyptic world of heartbreak, love, life and death that not even a vacation can save Whispers from. 

It may seem a melodramatic view of the world coming from the lovesick 20-something who declares himself “the greatest bedroom popper in the tri-state area,” but it’s real to Whispers, who, alone in his bedroom, can’t help but feel what he’s feeling. But Whispers isn’t ignorant to the pretentiousness of it all, often slipping into self-conscious tangents that reveal a mind still trying to figure it out, and what this “it” exactly is. 

Backed by an organ and various drum machines, the nine-track album is as simple and sincere as its creation. And it is perhaps its simplicity (Whispers recorded the album with an iPhone), that allows Whispers to reach unexpected emotional depths not heard in studio-produced music. It’s pure, raw emotion, absent of fluff or filler, not that there’d be any room left. 

For an album created within the confines of a bedroom, Whispers’s lyrics are devoid of any walls. He softly delivers, not quite whispering, heart crushing lines such as “life is easy when you want to die” and “love is dying on the ground” in one breath. It’s the entirety of existence crammed into a bedroom.

Despite its emotional weight, the album is anything but mopey. Its upbeat rhythms and carnivalesque melodies ironically complement Whispers’s broken, lamenting voice. Each song is distinctively catchy, often bringing about singalongs in which we share in Whispers’s confessions, adopting his pains, hopes and promises as our own, while uncovering our own feelings in the process. 

From “I Love You,” in which a heartsick Whispers professes an undying love that will never change, to “Pain in My Love,” in which he begs for his feelings to change, every conclusion Whispers reaches is a contradiction. And he’s aware of that. Because Whispers knows, having lived through it, that heartbrokenness can’t be cured by a single solution or coping mechanism, but must be felt in all its messed-up entirety. Whispers spends the whole album battling between his desire to change the way he’s feeling and to fully experience his apocalyptic love sickness. It’s a painful and inevitable undertaking not for the faint of heart. 

But our heartbroken hero is not immune from the consequences of love, life and everything else. Despite his familiarity with the subjects, he can’t help but feel alone and struggles to find the words to describe what he’s feeling. In the first few seconds of the closing track, “Heartbeat,” Whispers repeats “it’s real” to an audience he renders unconvinced, but really, it’s himself he’s singing to, restating the phrase over and over again until he finally believes his own words. But by the end of the song, as Whispers’s desperate voice drenched with feeling fades into the music, it’s clear he’s found words in the silence, pop melodies in the emptiness and hope in the despair. 

“When the rain washes you back to me, I get a haunted feeling I cannot explain,” Whispers reveals on “(Summer in Pain.)” But he’ll keep on trying, summer after summer. It’s an eternal summer spent in hell and everyone’s invited. 

“I don’t care if I die of heatstroke up here. This is rock and roll,” said Brad Petering, lead singer of TV Girl, refusing to take off his leather jacket as he stood in the heat emitted from blindingly bright stage lights overhead. Instead, the frontman took a swig of alcohol and went on to sing of modern romance, heartbreak and “luv.”  

After a month of touring, Los Angeles based band, TV Girl, ended their West Coast Tour with a sold-out show at the Lodge Room in Highland Park. A bittersweet show, the hypnotic pop band could hardly believe the long sweaty nights of music playing were over, but were more than happy to be home – literally. 

“I live right up the street,” said Petering, who had spent the past few days in his “self-care cave.” 

But TV Girl wasn’t the only one glad to be back in L.A.

Hailing from Eagle Rock, Ashley Rhodus, otherwise known as Wished Bone, played her last show opening for the band. With only a guitar in hand, Rhodus let the innermost contents of her heart spill onto the stage, interrupting her sweet sentiments only to request more backtrack drums. Though her soft voice painted romantic metaphors between nature and love, it also spoke of daily trivialities such as going to the DMV. Rhodus strummed past technical difficulties as easily as she sang of past loves, ending her set just as eager as the audience to hear TV Girl. 

And as the first beats of “Cigarettes out the Window” filled the former Masonic Lodge, it was clear that TV Girl was ready to be heard. The crowd squeezed together, swaying in every direction as each song bled into the next, Petering’s voice the only guide in the dreamy haze of synths and samples. Joined by members Wyatt Harmon and Jason Wyman, Petering so easily fell into the hypnotic rhythm of his melodies. He, too, danced to the vulnerabilities he confessed on stage, bopping his head up and down along with the audience as he recounted failed relationships and misunderstandings. Perhaps what made the show so dreamlike were the hundreds of bodies dancing to melancholy lyrics of regret and heartbreak in a way only TV Girl could bring about.

Illuminated from behind by the infamous mystery dream girl logo, TV Girl tore through favorites such as “Lovers Rock” and “Birds Dont Sing,” while throwing in rarities from their mixtape days for the “OG fans,” who mouthed the lyrics as though they were their own along with Petering. 

Not absent from the night was stage-banter, which Petering was sure to weave throughout the set, topics ranging from the band’s origins to tour life. 

“I get drunk every night doing the same thing, traveling around with my best friends and winding up with a big wad of cash I can’t even fold. You guys should try it sometime,” said Petering. 

And that wasn’t the only advice Petering shared to the crowd of fellow millennials just as confused and lost as him. A band dedicated to exploring the realities of love, Petering was quick to admit the absurdity of love songs and their many mixed messages. From John Lennon’s “All You Need Is Love” to Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” there’s no easy answer to what this whole love thing is about. To Petering, there’s only one song that presents the facts as they are: Jimmy Lewis’s song off the Back to the Future soundtrack in which he states, “the power of love is a curious thing.” Just where this power comes from remains unknown, but it’s a mystery TV Girl is willing to follow. 

As the night came to an inevitable close, TV Girl remained on stage, Petering proceeding to walk the audience through a future that would not happen, one in which the trio would walk off stage into the green room to only be summoned back onstage to cheering fans for the encore of a lifetime. No, instead the band saved everyone the hassle and got straight to the music, ending the night with the closing track to their 2016 album Who Really Cares, “Heaven Is a Bedroom.” 

TV Girl escaped the heat of the stage to cheers from an audience who hardly noticed an hour had gone by, and perhaps had fallen for the same mistake Petering did when he confused a bedroom for heaven.