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 the whole lot else. Brandon Rupp (additionally recognized by his mononymous musical title “beandon,” underneath which he releases music and DJs as KZSU’s Scholar Music Director) explores a brand new title and offers unfiltered suggestions, whatever the style. Be at liberty 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. Nevertheless, just like the city of Lumberton in David Lynch’s 1986 movie “Blue Velvet,” there lies a darker, extra sinister present underneath the deceptively conventional façade.
Odds are you’ll run into a wide range of distinctive Wallsocket characters, comparable to a crystal-meth-addled white-collar thief or a billionaire’s nepotistic daughter who shoplifts from CVS. However probably the most fascinating factor about Wallsocket? It’s not an actual place.
Wallsocket, Michigan is in truth the fictional middle of “Wallsocket,” the formidable sophomore launch by San Francisco-born, New York-based musician April Harper Gray, often called “underscores.” A capital-C idea album, “Wallsocket” stands out as one of many boldest and most unusual inventive statements this 12 months.
“Wallsocket” is an absolute buffet for music criticism, that includes an overabundance of idiosyncratic — and sometimes contradictory — parts to chew on. This overview may proceed lots of of various methods, however I’m most excited about how Gray has grown from her first file, “fishmonger,” to this sprawling idea album launched in September.
Whereas “fishmonger” was an completed lo-fi launch that landed her gigs at huge title festivals like Lollapalooza and collaborations with Dylan Brady of 100 gecs and Benny Blanco, “Wallsocket” is a whole 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 because 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 underneath a label or two. On “Wallsocket,” Gray gleefully mixes dozens of disparate parts: the high-pitched vocals of hyperpop, the adventurous sampling of plunderphonics, glitchy manufacturing and a punkish vitality that propels almost 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 large number, and these selections aren’t with out motive. Gray makes use of her musical versatility to sarcastically complement distinctive vignettes in every music.
Most of those songs contact on themes and subjects 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 inside embezzlement by an worker turned extra probably. It’s in all probability the primary music to deal with “deceased member of the family id 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 music, with the easy recommendation to “get on the within: you gotta do it like me.”
One other music that closely performs ironic distinction, “Shoot to kill, kill your darlings,” questions the motives of prosperous individuals who be a part of the army: “You’re the son of a lawyer and the son of a health care provider / With goals 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 sophisticated 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 protect of irony. Gray extends an arm to the topics of her tales, valuing their lives as really value analyzing.
“Wallsocket” is much less of a coherent narrative as it’s a sequence of brief tales in musical kind. Nevertheless, Gray’s perfectionist skills deliver the whole undertaking 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 digicam’s viewfinder by the city of “Wallsocket” to bodily assemble a complete world across the listener.
The music movies for this file have additionally been among the many better of the 12 months: Shot principally with a single iPhone, they’re a mixture of a David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” and a Lars von Trier movie. In sure pictures, the director straps the iPhone to a drone and really sweeps by the city.
I wish to emphasize that Gray’s lyrics prolong far previous the extremely low bar we’ve set for what’s poetry set to music. Gray makes use of her prowess correctly. The seven-minute centerpiece “Geez Louise” balances themes of gender id, non secular trauma and the consequences 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, may 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 way of Gray’s invocation of the sport, she highlights the innocence of the narrator and alludes to a toddler’s tendency to observe orders (as is the crux of the sport).
However the music 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 bought up off the carpet / and it stored on telling lies till they bought me out the door.”
Right here, the traumatized narrator’s depersonalization manifests in her altered viewpoint (her physique turning into an “it”) for the latter two traces. Such empathetic selections of language usually are not one thing you see typically in music, particularly not within the midst of the 12 months’s catchiest dance-pop instrumental — as soon as extra, ironic distinction between the music and lyrics comes into the equation.
Each music on “Wallsocket” sees Gray’s sturdy consideration to element. This album incorporates imagery and a sheer sense of scope that isn’t typically 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 performed 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 Be aware: This text is a overview and incorporates subjective opinions, ideas and critiques.