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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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“My God, I’m so lonely.” The first lines of “Nobody,” the lead single off Be the Cowboy, Mitski’s latest release, where alone, behind a piano, she pours out her soul and spills our secrets. That’s how it usually works with Mitski. She stretches her own vulnerabilities through songwriting often described as diarylike, though her words are much more existential. She’s not writing in a diary; she’s excavating every emotional layer within her being because she wants the answers no matter how bad it hurts.

So her realization of loneliness is immediately swept away into a question: “Why am I so lonely?” It comes as the closing line of “Lonesome Lover,” after Mitski realizes her desire to return to an unhealthy love rather than be alone set to happily strummed guitar. But it’s not the only form of self-sabotage the 27-year-old owns up to. In “Geyser,” the album’s opening track, Mitski professes the push-pull relationship she has not with a lover but her musicianship. “You’re the one I want,” Mitski sings, willing to throw the whole world away if just to have her music. And she does, expecting it to save her: the artistic condition.

That dilemma—wanting to be saved from yourself—is carried onto the next song, “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”  This time, Mitski is talking to an ex-lover, one she pushed away and blames for letting her get away with it. “Paint it over,” Mitski hopelessly begs, no longer able to convince herself of her innocence, staring at the ugly truth.

For all its dazzling vocals and intricate instrumentation, Be the Cowboy revolves around the ugly—in codependent relationships, fame and art itself. Mitski lays it bare because she’s tired of spending an hour on her makeup just to prove something. She’s fed up with the seemingly perfect surface level as seen on the album’s cover, where she wears a white swim cap as a tweezer plucks out uneven eyelashes. Because she’s staring straight at us, knowing it’s all for show; that who she is on the album cover is not who she is inside.

At the same time, Mitski can’t help but want to be immortalized. In “Remember My Name,” we hear her battle over the constant dissatisfaction of wanting to be known. She wants her feelings to be heard and her truth witnessed. The song ends with repeated cymbal crashes, as though not wanting to end or be forgotten, punctuating Mitski’s shout into the void.

But it’s more than being heard to Mitski. She wants to be enough. “Toss your dirty shoes in my washing machine heart,” Mitski requests on “Washing Machine Heart.” She’s putting her heart on the line for emotional labor; she’s willing to be used. But the loneliness never fades. Her washing machine heart only isolates her more, trapping her in a self-inflicted cycle of loneliness.

“I thought I had traveled a long way/But I had circled/The same old sin,” Mitski confesses on the emotionally charged, “A Horse Named Cold Air.” It’s one of the quieter songs on the album, boiled down to just keys and vocals. It’s Mitski alone—completely vulnerable and for once, content in her loneliness. She’s realized the cycle, acknowledged the pain and found somebody within herself. She sets herself free—she becomes the cowboy.

The album ends with “Two Slow Dancers,” in which Mitski focuses on two characters, former young lovers aged by time. It’s a tragic tale of memory and regret set during the couple’s final dance. But the song ends before the dance does, and in that moment, the couple is dancing forever. They’re free from the mess of life and content with themselves. So Mitski escapes herself by finding herself within the context of love and loss; she finds the answer after all.

An intimidating line of teenagers in streetwear, sporting tracksuits and rare sneakers, curved around Santa Ana’s The Observatory, slowly moving through security as they removed cellphones and forgotten chains from their pockets, staring at a group of teens in Hawaiian shirts as they bypassed the line for security and entered the venue with no hesitation.

The group of teens flowed into the already half-full Constellation Room, a hidden venue-within-a-venue, where rapper Ski Mask the Slum God, who was performing in the larger room, could be heard through the walls. The teens didn’t seem to care, or for that matter notice; they were too busy watching as members of The Symposium, a four-piece indie rock band, walked onto stage all smiles, as though the night was an inside joke.

The Symposium

After promising not to infringe on Kid Rock’s territory with their song “Cowboy” and labeling their more psychedelic sounding sounds as “synth shit,” it’s clear the Chicago band has skipped the pretension for a playful self-awareness. The music sounds retro, but the feeling’s not: a fuzzy mixture of youth and energy that seeks to be lost in.

As The Symposium left the stage, that energy remained in the audience mostly under twenty, who checked their phones and counted how many hours they had left until curfew. Phones disappeared into pockets as Hot Flash Heat Wave made their way onto the stage, dressed in full summer gear. After a few back-and-forth dialogues with the audio technicians, the band from Northern California finally began to relax, settling into the SoCal environment, joined by two miniature palm trees on stage.

“Should we play a show now? Is sound-check over?” a band member asked the audience as they let their anxieties slip away.

Hot Flash Heat Wave

The result of the garage rock the band is founded on and the dreamy atmosphere of the West Coast, Hot Flash Heat Wave never loses the melody. After a brief stint with a maraca, an accordion solo and a guitar versus accordion showdown, it’s clear the band is pushing the boundaries of what pop music should sound like, while maintaining the creative spirit that led them to the genre in the first place.

Accordion versus guitar showdown

The audience returned to their chatter, picking up where they left old conversations, counting down the minutes until the “coral-reef rock” band, a modern take on bossa nova and oldies, took the stage. As two LED palm trees lit up on stage, the group of teens in Hawaiian shirts screamed, for where palm trees are, Summer Salt isn’t far behind.

Though Austin natives, the band quickly settled into things, creating a hypnotizing groove as relaxing as the vocals of frontman, Matthew Terry. Each song rolled into the next, from powerful guitar riffs to emotionally charged lyrics, pleas for relaxation to thankfulness for the now, from remembering life’s sweetest moments to the pain of heartbreak. Fans cheered as they recognized familiar bass lines, mouthing the lyrics as they swayed along to the music, closing their eyes and disappearing for just a moment to a deserted beach of endless summer, where most Summer Salt music tends to take the listener.

Summer Salt

“If you’re wearing a Hawaiian shirt, this one is for you,” said a band member to cheers from those dressed in shirts covered with Polynesian motifs.

It’s not the only acknowledgment Summer Salt made to their dedicated fans, announcing the release of a new album following the completion of their tour before performing fan-favorite, “Tidal Waves.” It’s the closing track of the band’s 2015 release, Driving to Hawaii, which garnered the band a considerable amount of attention and continues to define the breezy, smooth energy Summer Salt delights in.

But no one enjoys Summer Salt’s music as much as their fans, who yelled out song requests new and old, if not the entirety of their discography. Though most of their requests were fulfilled by the end of the night, some fans seem to know more about Summer Salt than they do themselves.

“I’m in the band and I don’t even know that song,” said a guitarist as he turned to fellow bandmates in confusion at a request to play “Little Legs” before facing the audience, whose Hawaiian shirts clung to their sweaty limbs, and laughing along with them.

It starts with a screen. But before that, a bedroom. Scotch-taped posters plastered on the walls and a thumbtacked string of lights; the familiar objects of Claire Cottril’s space which would soon be recorded and uploaded online as the minimal setting for her spur-of-the-moment music video, “Pretty Girl.” Almost twenty million views later, those posters, along with Cottril herself, have become the face of “bedroom pop,” a loose genre of DIY music, more often than not confused for an aesthetic or sound rather than having been recorded in an actual bedroom. It’s this muddled definition of the term, recently popularized by a Spotify playlist, that has led to controversy over the integrity of the genre, the state of DIY music and what “making it” means. Nowhere better is this seen than in Cottril’s rise to fame as Clairo.

On a summer evening, the sky still light out, a mass of suburban teenagers waited patiently in line outside The Santa Ana Observatory. Most on their phone, others talking amongst themselves, waiting for a show that had been sold-out days in advance, much to the surprise of the headliner, Clairo, who recorded the crowd on her phone as she waited inside. 

“I’m still a little bit in shock,” Clairo would say half-way through her performance to an audience of screaming teenagers. 

It’s not hard to see where Clairo is coming from. The “Pretty Girl” music video was posted in just August of 2017 and her EP was released this past May. Though her career was born online, even it has moved fasted than expected in the digital age. And along with her insane growth in popularity has arisen the questions of why. 

Industry-plant, family connections and plagiarism have been tossed around as answers. Her sincere, self-made image that young fans have flocked to has been under constant examination, her climb to success seen as the result of a false narrative of humble origins. For as fast as Clairo has risen, many have leaped at the chance to tear her down and expose who she really is. 

But none of this was present as fans filled into the pit as soon as the venue doors opened. The Clairo controversy conversation occurs almost entirely online, on the outskirts of the overflowing good press that revolves around Clairo and fellow bedroom pop stars such as Cuco and Gus Dapperton. Because the naysayers can’t be heard over the millions of fans online, nor the hundreds of fans that night chanting “Clairo.” 

Despite all this, Clairo seems removed from it all. She’s shy, never staying in one place on stage, constantly moving away from the spotlight, throwing on a pair of sunglasses and facing her back to the audience. The stage isn’t the screen, and Clairo is still adjusting to being seen. Along with a live band, a giant mirror occupied the stage, reflecting the illuminated faces of those at the barricade; a shrine to the modern age. As seen in Clairo’s career, teenage insecurity and fame have coincided, and this time, through social media, everyone’s on stage.

Bedroom pop seems to be both born out of this and hindered by it. Because now, anyone can make music from their bedroom. Now, anyone can make it. The bedroom has become the stage. And with that, an influx of artists veiled in a cloak of realness, promising to deliver music from the heart untouched by the hands of the music industry. 

But where is the line drawn? Can bedroom pop expand into the studio without losing its authenticity? Or is its authenticity merely a commodity, a means of classifying itself amongst other similar-sounding genres? It seems to be that bedroom pop has become a catchall term for music that sounds honest, or at least has been labeled that way. What falls through the cracks is the actual process and what it means to make “authentic” music today. 

None of that seemed to matter in the midst of it all, though, as Clairo walked around the stage with a microphone, holding it to the audience during the chorus of “Flaming Hot Cheetos.” The crowd of teenagers on summer break was much too concerned with capturing the moment, seeing Clairo’s image held within their tiny screens, than concerning over where her music is made; they’re just happy she’s left her bedroom to perform onstage.

But where Clairo will go next remains unknown to the audience who catapulted her to where she is today. As she, along with other bedroom pop acts, continues to grow a devoted community of followers, the term bedroom pop becomes all the more cramped. Because recording in one’s bedroom, in one’s private space, has always been the first steps, never permanent. What happens when they outgrow the bedroom? What happens to the authenticity? For now, they’re safe to stay, but sooner or later, the pressures of moving out, of moving on, will arise, and the question of abandoning bedroom pop’s label will have to be answered. And if it’s abandoned, was it ever the right fit to begin with? Or just a trendy marketing ploy, authenticity packaged and sold, a lie disguised as the truth, just another product of 2018?

 

 

 

 

“There’s a place I know where we can go,” whispered David Portner, otherwise known as Avey Tare, into two conjoined microphones, strumming alongside childhood friend and bandmate, Noah Lennox, nicknamed Panda Bear, and along with Tare, one-half of Animal Collective. 

Where that place may be Tare never fully answers in the lyrics of “Good Lovin Outside,” but it’s clear it’s not here. It’s lost somewhere out there in the unknown, waiting to be explored, to be found. 

It’s that childlike spirit of secrets and discovery that make up Sung Tongs, where nostalgia meets maturity and sentiments are taken as they are. It’s a strange realm, one Animal Collective has always occupied in some way or another, finding a way through the distortions of childhood’s innocence and adulthood’s introspection, never betraying the other, but existing in both simultaneously. 

It’s a careful balance, one that garnered the band a considerable amount of attention when the album was released in 2004. And now, 14 years later, the band has decided to return back into the world of Sung Tongs, playing the full album live for the first time in 2017, followed by a tour across the U.S. and South America.  

“Something like this probably won’t happen again,” Tare said to the second-night audience at The Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, met by a mixture of cheers and sighs, a realization that the night was one of a kind. 

But that reality had already settled in long before, in the voice of Lonnie Holley. Before entering on stage for his final night opening for Animal Collective, Holley was introduced by a lengthy summary of his personal life and work as an artist, which has led to exhibitions in the Smithsonian and artwork displayed in the White House. But more shocking than his accomplishments is the nature of his music: never predetermined, but entirely of the moment. It’s here, then it’s gone.

And it was. Holley sat behind a tapestry with his initials and began to sing, at first quietly, still warming up and searching through his heart’s contents, but quickly began to cry out, standing to his feet in an outpour of emotion. Lyrics flew out of his mouth never to be heard again. Beautiful harmonies blended in mysterious ways never to be heard again. One couldn’t help but feel the slightest tinge of anxiousness, that no one was recording Holley’s genius, that it was going all to waste. But that’s not the point at all. Holley’s music lives inside him, constantly changing form and expression. It’s not a prisoner of time; it transcends it. 

“People ask me, where is the music coming from Mr. Holley? It’s coming out of me,” said Holley. 

That view of music as an extension of self is where Animal Collective thrives. As the duo walked onto a relatively empty stage, save two chairs, and adjusted their instruments, it was as though they were returning back to an old house—the one dreamt of throughout Sung Tongs, a space of reminiscing without getting too close. 

And with one exhaled “ah” from Tare and Bear, Sung Tongs began, from the swirling “Leaf House,” through the cathartic “We Tigers,” to the ruminative “Whaddit I Done.” Each song bled into the next, the music chasing the hypnotic voices which led the way, falling in and out of harmony, back and forth between soft coos and shrieking. Like children playing tag, or rather, adolescents escaping the pressures or maturity. They screamed, banged drums, meowed and made noises, losing every piece of themselves in pure happiness, like the Wild Things in Where the Wild Things Are. 

And so audience members left their seating to run through the aisles of the gothic-style theatre, forming chains and mimicking movements as though dancing around a fire in some ritualistic celebration of youth. But everyone remained seated during the over twelve-minute “Visiting Friends,” a hypnotic blend of vocalizations and constant strumming, capturing what it feels like to be young, the raw joy of possibility.

Tare and Bear were silent only once during the performance, between breaks in the harmonies of “College,” delaying the song’s mere seven lyrics, bringing audience members to the edge of their seats until finally everyone in the room cried out: “You don’t have to go to college.” All tensions disappeared as the reality of the statement sunk in, and uncertainty transformed into encouragement.

“That’s Sung Tongs,” Tare said to a standing ovation, Bear silent besides him. 

But the night wasn’t over, nor was Animal Collective ready to leave. For Sung Tongs was unfinished without its accompaniment, the EP collaboration with Vashti Bunyan, Prospect Hummer. 

“I remember learning how to dive,” were the last words of the night, depicting a crystal-clear scene of a child on a diving board, not ready to jump and let go. But no one ever really is, although we all make our way down to the water sometime. So Animal Collective lives in both places at once, always just about to hit the water. 

Out of the darkness, Unknown Mortal Orchestra emerged as silhouettes, backlit by pillars of purple light, concealed rather than illuminated, hiding from the hundreds of eyes staring up at them. Yet loneliness found its way onto stage as frontman Ruban Nielson’s voice echoed throughout the crowded Santa Ana Observatory, making everyone feel alone if for just a second. But never longer, as Nielson stepped into the light and repeated for the last time, “if you need to, you can get away from the sun.” 

Nielson took that further. During an instrumental break in “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark,)” Nielson hopped off stage into the pit, splitting the audience into halves as he made his way to the back of the venue, disappearing from sight as the crowd turned to each other in confusion, only to magically resurface moments later, guitar in hand, at the top of the balcony for all to see. 

Opening for UMO was Neil Frances, the singular title for the Los Angeles based duo comprised of Marc Gilfry and Jordan Feller. Dressed in all white, the band’s moody melodies enveloped the audience in a dreamy atmosphere, timeless and spaceless, easy to melt into and hard to escape. So much so, the audience found a difficult awakening when Neil Frances announced their final song. But the duo left with a promise to meet again, and like Nielson, ditched the stage for the crowd.

“We’re huge fans, so we’ll be out there watching Unknown Mortal Orchestra with you,” said Gilfry. 

And though the Portland/New Zealand band clung to darkness in the first few minutes of their set, after Nielson’s stunt, they were ready to seen, inside and out. Luckily for longtime fans, their multi-colored performance involved not only a journey through modern discontent and romantic hardships, but a catalog that has tackled these themes since Nielson started releasing music in 2010. From fuzzy “Ffunny Ffriends,” the track that first gained the band notice, to fan favorites “So Good at Being in Trouble” and “Multi-Love,” UMO showcased the scope of their complex lyricism and skilled musicianship that made the previously unknown band what it is today.

Still, the night wasn’t simply a rehashing of previous endeavors, of their “greatest hits,” but a reimagining of the songs that define UMO and continue to evolve along with the band as they make sense of an ever-changing social landscape. It’s this exploration of today’s current climate that UMO presents on their latest album, Sex & Food, maintaining if not furthering the level of vulnerability of its precursor, Multi-Love. 

That’s evident in the sad-but-true reality presented in “Not in Love We’re Just High,” which Nielson performed in the center of the pit, his face illuminated by cellphone flashes as hands reached out to touch him. He proceeded to lead those hands in clapping, turning to face the stage in need of a frontman as the audience cheered behind him. Climbing over the barrier, Nielson rejoined his band and ended the downbeat track with an intensity matching the song’s vulnerability, only stopped by a dramatic cutting of the lights. 

But it didn’t stop there, in the darkness. A rainbow of lights fell upon the deserted stage as UMO made their way back to their instruments. It only took one note, one head nod from Nielson, for audience members to scream out “Hunnybee.” A love song dedicated to Nielson’s daughter, it’s the other side of his troubled psych, the opposite of loneliness. To fans, it’s the entirety of UMO, equal parts love and paranoia, a bittersweet honesty presented through psychedelic rock, the inner workings of Nielson’s mind laid bare.  

We live in a world of endless comedy, one in which—all jokes aside—L.A. based musician, Drugdealer, is trading acid trips for real life. It’s been a longtime coming for Michael Collins, the man with many monikers, known as Run DMT, Salvia Plath and half of Silk Rhodes. But with Drugdealer, Collins is here to stay. With his 2016 release, The End of Comedy, Collins’s letting go of the illusions, no longer hiding behind humor or psychedelic drugs, but living in the real world.

But in order to begin again, Collins had to move on from the past. Saying goodbye to the ambient synth of Run DMT and the 60s pop of Salvia Plath, as Drugdealer, Collins has found something new. He’s ditched complicated arrangements and convoluted themes for a more laid-back approach, leaving vocal melodies as bare as possible, often backed by only piano or guitar, the words speaking for themselves. But Collins doesn’t lose his psychedelic approach, nor stray from his 70s singer-songwriter influences. Instead, he focuses his inspirations into a relaxed soundtrack full of sincerity.

Playing director, Collins casted a number of admirable musicians to appear throughout the 11-track album. From Ariel Pink’s creativity to Weyes Blood’s soulful voice, Collins enlisted collaborators he could make the most with, pushing himself to new realizations and vulnerabilities. He steps out of the spotlight, letting his collaborators shine while he creates complementary instrumentation. But he also knows when to speak for himself, to leave his friends out. Though not as charming as his work with his guests, it’s where we really hear Drugdealer’s sound and see Collin’s masterful control. The result is a lively flowing track of songs, uncomplicated and teeming with possibility.

That sense of possibility is The End of Comedy’s heart, and perhaps, humor’s antidote. Because to Collins, humor has become a defense mechanism, a means of sweeping away life’s hardships, and without it, the future’s unpredictable. But that’s not anything to run away from, and we hear Collins having to remind himself not to escape when the going gets tough throughout the thirty-one minute album. “Everywhere I look/There’s more reasons to be feeling free/But still I have to keep myself from leaving,” Collins admits on “The Real World.”

The realizations continue onto “Suddenly,” one of two tracks featuring Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering. With Mering’s shimmering vocals and Collins’s moody piano progressions, the three-dimensional pop song doesn’t fail to embody its euphoric lyrics, irresistibly uplifting and setting the bar for all future Drugdealer’s endeavors.

But it’s not all smiles. We hear sadness creep in as Collins puts an end to humor in the album’s instrumental “theme” tracks, which touch on the melancholic nature of life with dreamy string arrangements and a bit of jazz. It isn’t until “Sea of Nothing,” that Collins finds the words to the truth he’s been searching for. “Try to sleep/But the thought of what you were missing meets you/Get so deep/On the shallowest of worry thinking,” Collins confesses, going deeper instead of running away, having found the answers within himself.

Some answers, though, Collins only found through a little help from his friends. Breezy in energy and acoustics, “Easy to Forget” is the meeting of the waters for his and Ariel Pink’s artistic flow, fostered by the pair’s friendship. “I traded all my doubt for you,” Pink cheerily delivers after a series of “la-las,” reflecting his and Collins’s creative process unhindered by insecurity or doubt, each musician bouncing off the other’s curiosity.

For an album about comedy’s end, it’s fitting that it ends ironically: with a drawn out, overly obnoxious laugh. But it’s not laughing it all off, everything Collins has fought so hard to face. The laugh is an acceptance of the real world, of the humor that cannot be escaped from, that must be accepted for the truth it hides and reveals. Because the laughter’s last few notes is slowed into a sigh which morphs into a scream ended only by silence; the epitome of human existence. It’s the end of comedy and the beginning of Drugdealer.

“Let’s dance,” said Lydia Night, frontwoman of The Regrettes, facing an audience eager to embrace everything the punk rock band represents: unapologetic teenage energy. The 17-year-old tipped her cowboy hat and joined the audience in singing the first few lyrics of the anthemic, “I Don’t Like You.”

The sold-out show at the Constellation Room in Santa Ana’s The Observatory marks the L.A. band’s return home after playing on the road for several weeks. Their absence left their close-knit audience missing the band they helped skyrocket to fame. With the amount of singalongs, mosh pits and song request chants, it was a fitting welcoming for the teenage punk rockers.

“You guys are honestly the best crowd,” said bassist Sage Chavis.

But the crowd needed some encouragement before the whole thing began.

The first opener of the night, Sacramento garage band, Destroy Boys, found their nervy energy at first unmatched, frontwoman, Alexia Roditis, jumping into the audience and starting it herself.

“Anyone wanna mix it up down there or just move you shoulders a little?” Roditis asked the crowd.

And they listened. So much so that several phones and purses were lost in the madness, returning to their rightful owners thanks to help from the band, willing to put the rock aside for just a few moments.

But not for long, as the Bay Area based punk band known as Mt. Eddy walked onto stage, Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” introducing a set comprised of multiple guitar solos and stage diving. They left the stage just as they entered, embracing the meme of the song, and clearing way for a band read to leave the crowd to perform.

Guitars in hand, The Regrettes bounced around the stage, each teenage anthem leading into the next, from “Hey Now” to “A Living Human Girl.” Pimples, patronizing adults and terrible exes were covered in full, anger turned into empowerment, frustration into means of creation.

Not absent from the night was teenage self awareness. But even The Regrettes can turn flaws into punk rock hits.

Before playing “Ladylike/Whatta Bitch” off their 2017 album, Feel Your Feelings Fool!, Night dedicated the song to herself.

“This one goes out to me, myself and I,” said Night.

She was met with applause and the request to do a backflip, one of the few things the teenager can’t do.

The Regrettes left the stage in silence, only to walk back on several minutes of cheering later, picking up their instruments and playing the first few notes of a song that had everyone moving. Covering Sweet’s iconic “Ballroom Blitz,” the band divided the audience in two, Night leading each respectively, ending the song with both sides reunited and moshing.

The covers didn’t end there. Destroy Boys and Mt. Eddy joined The Regrettes on stage to perform Billy Idol’s, “Dancing With Myself.” The different bands mixed around, picking up instruments and sharing verses as Night dove into the crowd.

It’s what friends in punk bands are for.

We’ve got the soundtrack to your Fourth of July plans covered. So sit back, relax and enjoy the fireworks. 

Whether you’re hitting the beach, barbecuing or partying it up, make sure to follow our Spotify playlist so you take the celebration with you wherever you go. 

Our playlist features All-American classics new and old, for every and all patriotic occasions. It’s red, white and blue generational alternative rock. Celebrate KX 93.5’s way!

Listen here.