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Listen: quinnie’s “touch tank”

I have butterflies. Wonderful lilac and periwinkle and rosy butterflies flutter in circles around my heart, waking me from my dark dreams, dragging me into the sunlight, dancing me into summer.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt love within a song. I’ve only been listening to melancholy music. Angrier guitar riffs, sad lyrics. It seems that my teenage angst has lingered into my twenties. And in the past few weeks, as I’ve felt immense uncertainty and confusion, these songs linger still. But there comes a point in the confusion and anger and frustration when I need to be lifted up. Music helps me feel and contextualize my feelings, but it also wakes me from my slumber. And that is what “touch tank” by quinnie does. It sends serotonin and smiles through my veins. 

Released as a single on July 1st of this year, quinnie brings summer into this alt-pop track with faded vocals, a warm acoustic guitar, and swimming metaphors.  

Beginning with the sound, the first verse reminisces on old-timey movie projector audio, where the sound comes out muffled and light and romantic. The chorus picks up the guitar and quinnie’s vocals more clearly, but the tone is still light and bright, making it the perfect song for the beach or the pool or any body of water really. Verse two brings in percussion and more echoing vocals, giving the aural experience of being under or near water. 

It would be very unlike me to fall in love with a song that doesn’t have beautiful, relatable lyrics. This song is no exception to that. Detailed descriptions like: “gold-skinned, eager baby, blue shirt out the laundry” in the chorus that bring the listeners attention to the object of quinnie’s desire. And again in verse two with: “to you, deep sea pearl, my soft manta ray.”  It’s these minute details that could only be noted by a poet, and a poet in love at that. 

My favorite lyric comes in the bridge as quinnie sings, “you took my breath away, so now I can’t suck in my stomach around you anymore.” To me, this is the ultimate sign of comfortability within a relationship. You suck in your stomach so no one has to see who you really are, what you may really look like, but when someone takes your breath away like that (figuratively, of course), you don’t even get the chance to overthink. You just are who you are and, miraculously, it isn’t more complicated than that. 

“Touch tank” is also a song so openly about female pleasure and the female enjoyment of said pleasure. The chorus begins with, “he’s so pretty when he goes down on me.” Another verse two includes, “two tender fingers to touch the display” (this imagery is mirrored in the music video). I think it’s rare to find a song that is just so simply about a woman enjoying herself. She’s falling in love, but it doesn’t come across as overly romantic or dramatic. It’s the simplicity of the little things quinnie notes throughout the lyrics that makes her song genuine. That make love seem genuine and not overly complicated. 

It’s just one of the prettiest and loveliest songs I’ve heard in a while. The line “We’re too old to live with our parents; Do you wanna wake up to me every morning?” is so simple, and by no means original, yet quinnie transforms that simplicity into the only thing I desire. And I cannot stop singing it; it plays on repeat in my head at all hours of sunshine. 

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Listen: “For a Moment You’re Mine” – Little Monarch

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Listen: “For a Moment You’re Mine” – Little Monarch

It satisfied something in me for the moment, and personally, it felt important to put out there and just not care how much attention it got.

I can picture a flock of monarchs fluttering around in the bright morning sun. Birds chirping in the distance. I am dreaming and white sun peers through blinds, wasting the morning away in bed with you. For a moment I’m yours.

The most recent single from Little Monarch, “For a Moment You’re Mine,” is the epitome of sun-soaked indie pop, as “listeners are taken through a fleeing moment.” In speaking with Casey Kalmenson, creator and lead singer of the project, she described this as the basis for the track. “This song is a fleeting moment in macros and micros,” Kalmenson said. “It feels fleeting sonically because there are very short bursts of tempo and energy in the song.” In micro, the song evolves in tempo and in lyricism, as the title itself is a sentiment of how momentary love and feelings can be. From the macro perspective, Kalmenson noted that, “this feels like a fleeting moment because it was a change that I took when choosing which sonic path I’d take.” It’s more of a “hybrid-acoustic” track than her previous and upcoming songs.

Kalmenson, who began her musical journey with the piano around 8 or 9 years old, explained how the varying sound of “For a Moment You’re Mine” was partly due to writing during a more isolated period. The track, which was co-produced and co-written with Daniel Pashman, “just sort of happened,” Kalmenson explained. “It satisfied something in me for the moment, and personally, it felt important to put out there and just not care how much attention it got.”

With For a Moment You’re Mine, she felt that she was able to maintain control and freedom with her creation, knowing that it’ll reach the right audience. To Kalmenson, the beauty of independent artistry lies in the fact that it’s about the artist. “It’s a different world putting out music now. You feel like maybe you’re not encouraged to put something out at the moment unless there is some specific precursor, which is not a healthy way to create.”

Kalmenson, who prides herself in dabbling in a bit of everything related to music, has acted (as she graduated with a theatre degree from USC), worked as a background singer and musician, done sync and licensing, and shared her skillset through teaching and mentoring before creating Little Monarch. The band, whose name pays homage to the abundance of monarch butterflies outside their LA studio, initially formed as a five-piece indie band for their first EP. Since then, the band has transformed with her, as it follows her journey as a writer and producer. Little Monarch has metamorphosized into a representation of Kalmenson and whomever she is working with (which is often members from the original five).

Most recently, Kalmenson joined Gracie Abrams on her North American and European tour. She noted that this experience was much different from touring your own project. “It’s fun to be in support of someone else as the whole show isn’t on your shoulders.”

For Kalmenson, curiosity is king, and music is the thing she is most curious about. She has goals of creating a group of songs that feel hopeful and positive. Though she continues to dabble in production, sync work, and will be playing more shows with Gracie Abrams, she most simply enjoys writing and composing her own music. “Music [as a whole] helps us become more innocent and hopeful. There are no biases, just listening,” Kalmenson said. “You’ll never totally figure it out. You can never master it and there’s always more to discover.”

Overall, Kalmenson feels that “For a Moment You’re Mine” reflects her personality: chill optimism. Her own genre and playlist, I find her sound to be more relevant than ever. With longing lyrics like “hope is slowly growing in the darkness of my own fears, I wish I gave you this whole year,” Kalmenson captures regret in the loveliest way. She drives through the point of these emotions with the line, “Our worlds still collide, for a moment you’re mine.” There is great beauty in accepting that some things only last a moment.

Kalmenson describes music as a magic potion, something that dictates your mood and feeling. “For a Moment You’re Mine” makes you remember the feeling of being with someone you loved. It’s waking up to coffee in bed. Walking through the park and holding hands in the sunshine. It’s equally somber and romantic, a movie scene.

Listen: quinnie’s “touch tank”

I have butterflies. Wonderful lilac and periwinkle and rosy butterflies flutter in circles around my heart, waking me from my dark dreams, dragging me into the sunlight, dancing me into summer. It’s been a while since I’ve felt love within a song. I’ve only been listening to melancholy music. Angrier guitar riffs, sad lyrics. It […]

Listen: “hate to be lame” – Lizzy McApline ft. FINNEAS

This song is the musicification of walking on thin ice. Lizzy McAlpine is the queen of the soft pop ballad. That’s a bold statement, I’m aware, but her voice has just the right amount of soul and desperation for me to feel everything she sings.  I don’t particularly know much about falling in love. I […]

Listen: “Chill Out” – Barcode Pony

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Listen: “hate to be lame” – Lizzy McApline ft. FINNEAS

This song is the musicification of walking on thin ice.

Lizzy McAlpine is the queen of the soft pop ballad. That’s a bold statement, I’m aware, but her voice has just the right amount of soul and desperation for me to feel everything she sings. 

I don’t particularly know much about falling in love. I mean, I do know a good amount. I read loads of novels, watch endless movies, and listen to music like McAlpine’s on a regular basis. Occasionally I experience a flurry or a flint of the magic myself. But the stories that she’s created in her songs, the blunt lyricism and the raw emotion, they get me there.

Hate to be lame” is one of these songs. Released April 5, 2022 and the 11th track off her sophomore album five seconds flat, McAlpine featured pop artist FINNEAS to help her contextualize when you know you’re in love. Love songs are about as popular as mosquitos in summer, so it’s difficult to find something as original and equally relatable as “hate to be lame.” The song not only captures what it feels like to be on the verge of saying “I love you,” but it demonstrates the anxieties that come with saying those words. It’s a love song, but it’s also a song about the fear and anxiety of what happens once those words are said. 

It’s her simple, yet relatable lyrics that draw me in, captivated by that first feeling. She begins this immediately, with the opening line, “It’s always on the tip of my tongue.” This is McAlpine’s first image for what this love feels like, how the words seem to come to her without further thought or questioning. It’s followed by, “I read an article on the internet, told me that’s how you know you’re fallin’ in love.” I love how simple and relevant this image is. It makes me remember the points in my life where I questioned it too, where I typed the words into google hoping I’d gain some sense of clarity from a Seventeen article titled something like “Five Ways You Know You’re in Love.”

When we arrive at the chorus, we feel the anxiety, bordering on embarrassment. McAlpine sings, “Hate to admit but it might be true. Hate to admit but I think you knew. Hate to be lame but I might love you.”  It’s like she’s apologizing for her feelings, trying as hard as she can not to feel that way. Not to ruin anything. Not to say something she shouldn’t. This is contrasted by the lines in FINNEAS’s verse. He sings, “If I could rewind, would there be some butterfly effect? What if we never met? What if the stars never aligned?” The butterfly effect represents the idea that FINNEAS wishes they could go back to the beginning of their relationship to stop it from starting. They’re both falling in love apprehensively, regretfully. 

I think it’s important to note the tone behind the lyrics as well. It’s obviously not happy-go-lucky. The beat drop during the bridge intensifies the song and matches the questioning in her lyrics: “Do I love him? Do I need him? Do I want him? Do I care enough to say that I love him, that I need him?” Her anxieties are apparent; her emotional spiral parallels the tempo during this moment. And it’s brought to fruition with the end of the bridge: “If I need him, maybe that will make him stay. If I lie, will I still feel this way?” The doubt becomes obvious as McAlpine questions whether saying “I love you” will soften the damage that’s already apparent within the relationship.  

What’s so beautiful about this song is that it attempts to examine what it feels like to be in love but have severe anxieties and regrets about the relationship to begin with. It’s about feeling it and wanting so badly for some sense of relief from the questioning inside an anxious mind. But, at the same time, feeling embarrassed and “lame” for wanting to say it, knowing that neither person is falling willingly. This song is the musicification of walking on thin ice. Could the words “I love you” save them or tear them apart?

Listen: “No Shame” – Five Seconds of Summer

“Our ambition as a band is to become genreless.” I’ve been caught in a cycle of self-doubt lately. The end of the semester kicked my ass, work sucks, and I’m itching to get out of the house. Summer can’t come soon enough. You know the urge you get sometimes to scream-sing in the car at […]

Listen: “Lullaby” – Grace Ives

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Listen: “Please” – Sali

I like working with the idea that songs don’t need to take a normal, organizational path Sali When I listen to this song, I picture an early spring sunset, blue and pink and yellow form a tie-dye sky. I’m on the train watching the sun slide beneath the city, the world passes by quickly but […]

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Listen: “No Shame” – Five Seconds of Summer

“Our ambition as a band is to become genreless.”

I’ve been caught in a cycle of self-doubt lately. The end of the semester kicked my ass, work sucks, and I’m itching to get out of the house. Summer can’t come soon enough. You know the urge you get sometimes to scream-sing in the car at the top of your lungs? That feeling has been constantly pumping through my veins, making me restless. 

I, of course, have a specific playlist for this type of feeling, as most Type A, anxiety-ridden Spotify users do. And one of the songs on it has been running through my mind: “No Shame” by 5 Seconds of Summer. Initially released February 5, 2020, “No Shame” was the third single off the band’s 2020 album CALM (named such after each band member’s first initial). The track is now over two years old, but I don’t think it got enough attention at the time. It has everything required for a proper head-banging, bedroom dancing, anxiety-curing bop: emotive vocals, a wicked bass drop, and a screamable chorus. 

As drummer Ashton Irwin discussed on an Instagram live on March 27, 2021, one year after the album’s release, the concept of the song is based on the one-dimensionality of celebrity and the evil behind attaining such status. It’s exemplified with the opening line of verse one: “Angel, with the gun in your hand, pointin’ my direction, givin’ me affection.” The irony of this line comes from the power that the general public (the angel) holds over the celebrity. They can either kill them or give them affection. 

The simile in the pre-chorus of “go on and light me like a cigarette, even if it might be something you’ll regret” gets at the notion of the effect the celebrity has on the public. It also demonstrates their dehumanization process: they willingly become pawns in order to gain a sense of immortality. This is heard in the chorus with lines like “I only light up when cameras are flashing,” which touches on the fake-it-’til-you-make-it ideal. The following line “never enough and no satisfaction,” is a reference to the Rolling Stones’s “Satisfaction.” The extreme, of course, is fully exemplified with the chorus lines: “Diggin’ my grave to get a reaction. Changin’ my face and callin’ it fashion.” You have to absolutely have no shame to be capable of these things. 

With the lyrics “I love the way you’re screaming my name” in the chorus and “I’ll give you my permission, you’ll always be forgiven” in verse two, 5SOS paints the power of the public in creating and building celebrity, while simultaneously demonstrating how they’re never held responsible. And then the darker side comes to light with the lines, “Go on replace me, when you’re cravin’ somethin’ sweeter than the words I left in your mouth. Go on and spit me out.” Irwin noted this as a particularly dark lyric because it illuminates the lifecycle of celebrity: you’ll eventually be replaced. 

Stylistically, Irwin discussed how the sound and instrumentation mimics the theme. “The opening guitar riff is very grunge, new metal, and we were definitely influenced by Nine Inch Nails,” he said, describing lead guitarist Michael Clifford’s work as “melodically haunting.” He also mentioned lead singer Luke Hemmings, noting these vocals as some of the best recordings of their career, and bass player Calum Hood’s synth playing which made the track bolder. Each member of the band’s talent helped depict the brutality of the entertainment industry. Irwin concluded the Live by stating that “our ambition as a band is to become genreless.” This song is a long way from “She Looks So Perfect” and “Don’t Stop.” The maturity as a band is apparent through their developed lyricism and ambition to jump genres. Celebrating ten years as a band, this maturity is continually seen on their most recent releases, “Complete Mess” and “Take My Hand.” 

I, however, am not a celebrity (despite how often I get interviewed by my bedroom mirror), so I cannot relate to the song in that particular way. To me, this song is a release. It’s a chance to be free of fears and sing and dance and live without judgment. And in rediscovering one of my favorite bands from my teenage years, I’m pleased to say that my YouTube homepage is once again full of 5SOS interviews. I feel like a proper 15-year-old fangirl. Which is much more fun than feeling like a burnt out, 23-year-old corporate employee. 

Molly MacDuff
Molly MacDuff

Molly MacDuff is a writer and editor currently attending Emerson College’s Publishing and Writing MA program.

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Listen: “Peace” – Taylor Swift

“Our coming-of-age has come and gone. Suddenly this summer, it’s clear.” One of my favorite things about music is its ability to draw you in at moments when you really need it. We truly hear and resonate with lyrics and melodies when we’re feeling a particular way. That’s how I feel when I listen to […]

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Listen: “Please” – Sali

I like working with the idea that songs don’t need to take a normal, organizational path

Sali

When I listen to this song, I picture an early spring sunset, blue and pink and yellow form a tie-dye sky. I’m on the train watching the sun slide beneath the city, the world passes by quickly but the song plays at regular speed. I am young and I am managing a difficult love. The song is “Please,” the most recent release by independent, Brooklyn-based artist, Sali. 

This single, released today, April 22, follows her debut EP Charming, released March 2021. Graduating from Boston University in 2018, Sali developed her love of music and music production from her time in the BU Acapella community. This experience comes across in her music as angelic harmonies. She’s spent all her life in music, taking jazz and opera lessons as a child. 

“Please” is more alternative than the previous tracks she’s released, as Sali wanted to bring in a bit more of a surf-rock vibe and branch out from the accessibility of hip-hop and pop production that she’s used to. As the first song she’s produced by herself, the shift is inspired by “living in Brooklyn and being more social.” Reggae with the bass, hip-hop on the drums, and a slow build to the ambient chorus are all components of the track that build this unique sound. “I like working with the idea that songs don’t need to take a normal, organizational path,” Sali explains. “I had this in mind with the cool outro that’s not exactly a bridge or an outro.” 

 Sali started writing this song based on some advice that her mother had given her about people who are withholding love or affection, the kind of people that want you to prove yourself to gain their attention. She explains that isn’t inherently romantic or based on a specific romance; she built it around this idea of having a relationship with a withholding person and the frustrating feeling that develops from managing it. “When you see the opposite of the withholding type of love, it’s so much more beautiful, even if you’re hurt or guarded,” Sali says.  

For Sali, producing her own songs has been a liberating learning experience. She’s no longer working solo, but incorporating talented people from her community and from internet friends she made during the pandemic. “There’s a lot of collaging in songwriting and producing,” she states. “As a black woman in music, it can feel like you’re losing control.” Sali notes that she has to always think about who she’s involving in the process to make sure they respect her wishes and artistic vision. She’s grateful that everyone she’s worked with thus far is incredible, respectful, and supportive. “Please” is mixed by Daniel Chironno, mastered by Joshua Pleeter, recorded musician on bass is Jonathan Kim, and the lyrics and production are, of course, done by Sali. Her friends teach her a lot about production, and she relies on her influences and surroundings to inspire her creatively. 

Her next EP called Other People, which includes “Please,” is set to be released this summer, with a scheduled release party to go with it. She’s just recently begun to perform her tracks live, singing and playing with a band this past Monday, April 18th at the East Berlin in NYC. Of the future, Sali laughs as she says, “Production will always be a process because I want to be really, really good.” Listening to “Please,” you can hear the simplistic yet pleading tone she presents, not only through her poetic lyricism but through her production as well. This is a track for young people in the city, created by one and the same. 

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Listen: “Peace” – Taylor Swift

“Our coming-of-age has come and gone. Suddenly this summer, it’s clear.”

One of my favorite things about music is its ability to draw you in at moments when you really need it. We truly hear and resonate with lyrics and melodies when we’re feeling a particular way. That’s how I feel when I listen to “Peace.” 

The second-to-last track on Taylor Swift’s 2020 Folklore album, these words and melodies are far from new but remain near as cherry blossoms bloom and green returns. Folklore represented a shift in Swift’s sound to a more acoustic, broken-down version of her earlier country and pop albums. “Peace” is one of those songs that leaves me feeling tingly.

I’m not sure exactly what it is that makes me feel the song more than I used to. Maybe it’s because I live in a city and am perpetually surrounded by people and movement. Or maybe it’s the guitar intro, gentle and forthcoming, lingering in my ears and floating to my heart. Like I’m falling in love. And then comes her voice, and I know I am:

“Our coming-of-age has come and gone. Suddenly this summer, it’s clear.”

As Swift discusses in the Long Pond Studio Sessions, “Peace” is about the fear of her own fame and how that affects the relationships that she’s had and continues to have. It is that moment of clarity and utter terror combined. How do you love someone when you’re constantly afraid that the love will never be enough to outweigh the bad?

Per usual, Swift uses metaphor and descriptive imagery to put modern poetry to shame: “But I’m a fire and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm. / All these people think love’s for show, but I would die for you in secret.”

These descriptions are not only lyrically beautiful, but they’re pleading. They represent her actions. To know that you love someone so much that you would sacrifice publicly acknowledging that love for the safety of someone else is possibly the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard. But it also shows that despite the fire she has for another, she isn’t content and at peace. There will always be a lingering fear of failure, or exposure. How can any of us ever truly give someone peace?

“I’d give you my sunshine, give you my best / But the rain is always gonna come if you’re standing with me.”

Her pleading, dreamlike voice and her lyrics are simply so honest. Swift has always been known for that, but you can see her growth in this album and in this song. It isn’t homecoming dances or being pretty enough for the boy on the football team (though there is equal importance in those tracks that marked our childhood), it’s about building a strong, honest, and communicative relationship.

I think all we can really ask for in our own lives is for someone to give us their best. It’s not sentimental. It’s not cliché. It’s honest. And honesty, to me at least, is the most beautiful thing. Because eventually it sets us free.  

Molly MacDuff
Molly MacDuff

Molly MacDuff is a writer and editor currently attending Emerson College’s Publishing and Writing MA program.

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Listen: “God Complex” – Laura Elliot

There is nothing quite like a strong, vocal-lead ballad about a narcissistic boy to brighten your midweek listening. Singer-songwriter Laura Elliot hits the nail on the head with “God Complex,” track seven from her debut album, People Pleaser.

The track revolves around Elliot’s relationship with a boy who has a “God Complex,” and the emotional trauma that results from the experience. Her raw, emotion-filled vocals pair perfectly with her simple yet beautifully accurate lyrics, reminding me of a mix between Anna Nalik and Lana Del Ray. She begins with him, singing, “He’s high again / smokin’ in the front yard / bloodshot eyes.” There is no overthinking or guilty defending, just exhaustion and a bittersweet sense of defeat. 

Elliot introduces character action in the chorus with the lines, “And he’ll try and make me forget / every word he ever said / then he’ll swear and say he loves me / and I’ll believe him in a heartbeat.” He is the one with the ability to act. The dynamic between the two is very obviously one of emotional manipulation. This is made obvious by the end of the chorus, as she sings, “Always promising to walk away / then takes it back when I’m okay with it / God Complex.” Elliot’s role as the passive character in the relationship matches wonderfully with the overarching tone of exhausted defeat that’s so apparent in her belting. Him being the actionable character makes the “God Complex” title she gives him seem something desirable. 

The idea that Elliot can deal with the consequences and emotional damage of loving the boy with the “God Complex” is exemplified through her actions. In the second pre-chorus, she sings how she “Put on a fake phrase / it’s sad but true / I’ll never choose to be alone.” This is the epitome of why she keeps allowing him to control her and ultimately the point of the song: he’s a better option than being alone. 

Elliot has perfectly captured a one-sided relationship, demonstrating altogether what dating in the 21st century can be. The idea that she’s being used and is too depleted to take action on her own is seen in the bridge: “I’ll let him light me up / and let that be enough.” This is lyrically and stylistically profound because she compares herself to his habit of smoking; she’s being lit up just like his joints. She’s become a deteriorating part of him and she knows that, which is equally heartbreaking and defeating. 

Elliot’s lyricism and vocal tone is so pleasing that when I listen, I find myself belting along and feeling everything she feels. That’s the mark of true artistry, when the listener gains some sense of understanding and connection to the artist.

plum cover art widowspeak

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Listen: “Alrighty Aphrodite” – Peach Pit

My childhood fantasies of Greek and Roman mythology were reignited when I stumbled upon this Peach Pit track a few weeks ago. Initially released in 2017, “Alrighty Aphrodite” was one of the first singles off the Vancouver-based band’s debut album, Being So Normal, in 2018.  The song uses the goddess Aphrodite to represent a possibly […]

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Listen: “Alrighty Aphrodite” – Peach Pit

My childhood fantasies of Greek and Roman mythology were reignited when I stumbled upon this Peach Pit track a few weeks ago. Initially released in 2017, “Alrighty Aphrodite” was one of the first singles off the Vancouver-based band’s debut album, Being So Normal, in 2018. 

The song uses the goddess Aphrodite to represent a possibly unfaithful or indecisive woman. With continual remarks on her otherworldly beauty, lead singer Neil Smith writes of the woman’s selfish and misleading ways. The lyricism of this track is not only poetic, but it references many prominent artworks inspired by the goddess.

The initial line of verse one, “take a seat back in your clamshell,” references the painting ‘The Birth of Venus’ in which the goddess is depicted standing in a giant clamshell. Verse two makes note of the famous sculpture ‘The Crouching Venus’–which depicts Venus (Aphrodite) bathing in a crouched position–with the lines, “run your mornin’ bath in sea form/ soak your milky skin in the tide.” It is also mentioned in legend that Aphrodite was born of white sea form. Smith is able to unite legend and vivid imagery within each of the verses, which is one of the primary qualities that makes this song so profound. 

The Birth of Venus, painting by Italian artist Sandro Botticelli

Verse two also draws upon the famous painting ‘The Pearls of Aphrodite,’ with the line, “little pearl you think you’re in gold.” But Smith is quick to depict the darker side of the goddess with the following, “But I can see the dirt in your lines.” The whole ocean isn’t enough for her, so neither is the narrator (presumably Smith). 

The chorus lines, “if I’d known you sold on maybe” and “go whip that red for other eyes” signify the contentment of the narrator for his goddess. He feels equally played and betrayed, just as many of Aphrodite’s victims in the myths.

This soft-spoken lyricism pairs perfectly with lead guitarist Christopher Vanderkooy’s guitar riffs. Simultaneously seductive and spooky, the guitar makes the listener feel the true power the goddess possesses. The whole of “Being So Normal” maintains a similar sound, but I find “Alrighty Aphrodite” to be the epitome, the golden pearl, of the album. 

Molly MacDuff
Molly MacDuff

Molly MacDuff is a writer and editor currently attending Emerson College’s Publishing and Writing MA program.

Categories
Reviews

The Benefits are Grounded in Blue Skies

Driving through Northern Iowa, in a 2001 Cadillac Deville packed full with guitars, a drum kit, and various equipment, Connor Wilson and Matthew Gearhart stumbled upon a farm with a small cabin. With the permission of the farm owner, Ann Marie, the boys unloaded their equipment and filmed the “Cost of Living” music video with a red, handheld cam-corder. 

The blurry effect of the cam-corder mixed with the Grant Wood aesthetic of the Northern Iowa farmland created the perfect backdrop for the second track off their debut album, Grounded in Blue Skies. I found myself laughing whimsically, as the video transitioned from scenes of green hills to hay bails to corn fields. If you pay close enough attention, you can see Ann Marie staring in one of the shots, perplexed by two strangers dancing and jamming across her farm. 

For Connor Wilson (21) and Matthew Gearhart (18), founding members of The Benefits, music is a distraction, it is living, and it gives you hope. With these principles, and a surplus of talent, the two found their way together through collaborating with other artists. “We found ourselves working on projects for some other people,” Wilson explains. “That turned into several songs. And then an album.” 

Together, the pair has managed to create an album that sounds like summer in Iowa: rolling hills, farmland, and driving down two-way highways with the windows down.

Their varying musical backgrounds and contrasting styles are part of why they work so well together. Wilson has been involved with music since four, learning the saxophone and developing a love for jazz in middle school. In high school and college, he transitioned to guitar, bass, and drums, taking particular interest in the production side of music. Gearhart, on the other hand, didn’t begin playing guitar until his sophomore year of high school. But he grew up immersed in music thanks to his older brother, who frequently blasted the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and the Grateful Dead. Gearhart contributes lyrics and riffs so perfectly intertwined from growing up with such substantial influences. 

The Benefits: Matthew Gearhart, Connor Wilson

Together, the pair has managed to create an album that sounds like summer in Iowa: rolling hills, farmland, and driving down two-way highways with the windows down. They’re a blend of folk and rock and roll, reminiscent of the Beatles in each of their songs, including the shaggy hair. 

This is most notably apparent with the whispering and saxophone in the opening of “Despise.” The track has a similar resonance of the psychedelic tracks throughout Magical Mystery Tour and Sargent Pepper. Throughout that song, the band’s goal was to build a song that flows. The key changes and the riffs that blend into one another demonstrate how they succeeded. In “Hope You’re Doing Alright,” the melodic phrases and sun-soaked echoes contribute to create a very Bob Dylan-esque sound. Tracks like “Losing It,” “554,” and “Bounce” that are very guitar-heavy have musings of Hendrix. 

The last song on the album is the title track, a unique positioning to pair with a unique sound in comparison to the rest of the album. This, of course, was intentionally done. “We liked that it wasn’t a hit,” the band says. “We recorded it in one take and decided to keep it.” 

The lyricism in Grounded in Blue Skies is another testament to the amount of potential The Benefits possess, reminding me of modern lyric-focused bands like the Lumineers and The Head and The Heart. Particularly in the opening tracks, “Sunshine” and “Cost of Living,” the story-telling ability of the pair is transparent and beautiful. “We enjoy music that is really thought through,” Gearhart explains. Music with intention. “And doesn’t sound like too much of the same thing.” Maintaining a cohesive album with varying sounds can be a challenge, but their subtle lyricism keeps it together.

Wilson notes that “the songwriting process morphs the song. We spend nearly 10-times as long mixing as we do actually recording.” This meticulous attention to detail enables me to compare these young Iowans to some of the greatest musicians of all time. For The Benefits, the album is more than a collection of songs. “There’s a strung-through sound that holds the album together,” Wilson says. “It’s all these little momentary adrenaline rushes.”


The Benefits are currently working on their second album, while transitioning Grounded in Blue Skies to the live performance. Tuesday nights at Gabe’s in Iowa City is where you can find them live, as they’ve added a third member, Kaden Fields, on drums. Together, they “really just want to make good music that we can look back on and be proud of.” This may seem like a simple goal, but there is nothing simple about what these boys are writing, mixing, and creating from their attic.

Molly MacDuff
Molly MacDuff

Molly MacDuff is a writer and editor currently attending Emerson College’s Publishing and Writing MA program.

Categories
Interviews

New York City’s ‘Boy Next Door’ Presents “loverboy”

“It’s uncomfortably transparent.”

Jake Brewer needs a lot going on to be productive, as he’s equally indecisive and stubborn. “I’ve always been somebody who does their best work, and feels their best, when there’s so many things going on,” Brewer notes, before listing off each of the projects he’s currently pursuing. He’s currently writing an album, managing other up-and-coming artists, hosting a podcast, and performing live. He lives to be moving constantly. “That’s always been my favorite way to work.”

Brewer is the middle child, happily surrounded by two sisters. “We have such a unique relationship where I can’t even remember fighting with my sisters,” Brewer says. His sisters loved dance, and because of this, he found himself constantly surrounded by the performing arts. But it wasn’t an inconvenience to Brewer; it was where he began to mold his passion. In middle-school, his dance background pushed him into music and theatre. He notes that, “I owe those teachers everything because they really encouraged me to do music. They could tell I had a sense of rhythm.” Soon, he found himself exploring music outside of school.

“I’m a really stubborn person,” Brewer states. “So when I first began to play guitar, I didn’t like my guitar teacher teaching me how to play other people’s songs. I just wanted to play my own thing.” So he did.

Jake Brewer photographed by Rachel Leiner

He released his first few projects in his senior year of high school, really beginning to hone his craft at Boston University (where he graduated in December 2020). “I don’t think Boston gets enough credit for the kind of music scene that it has,” Brewer mentions. “I was really inspired by that environment.” 

Brewer released his debut album, Boys Do Cry, right before the pandemic. He was meant to tour that summer, but was unable to do so. Then, following some rest time and isolation at his parents’ home, Brewer put together an EP, What Love Did to Me. This EP was centered on the process of falling out of love and losing your identity.

During this time, he began speaking with some of his close friends involved in entertainment. Brewer came to the conclusion that the industry doesn’t take performers as seriously if they don’t have representation. To put together that first tour, he used a friend’s email address and emailed from that, pretending to be his own agent. “It kind of blew me away how seriously people took me,” Brewer reminisces. “It was the same press kit and everything.” The only difference being he now had “representation.” 

Brewer wasn’t, and still isn’t, the only one jumping over similar hurdles to make an impact on the entertainment business. He discovered that friends all around him were also in need of agents. Because of this, “we decided to start a management company that was much more fluid, gravitating towards trends,” to help artists in the ever-evolving industry, FRNDLY media.

With the new EP under his belt, Brewer was able to bring some content to FRNDLY. Their success has taken off from there. He established a podcast titled “Groundbreaking,” dotingly called the heartbeat of FRNDLY, where Brewer talks to other young creatives in the industry about ambition and artist branding. Brewer says, “it was such a great way to connect with people, especially during the pandemic.” He also had the opportunity to present as a TedX speaker, discussing the notion of different perspectives and letting go of control within his experience as a creator thus far. 

FRNDLY hosts an annual summer festival for new artists, describing it as the festival that welcomes everybody. “I really wanted it to be personal,” Brewer says. “I called each of the artists [for the first festival] and wanted to make sure they knew this was solely a platform to elevate them.” This was another experience that truly inspired Brewer to write and create, watching other young creatives express themselves in the live show.

Getting to perform live shows in the last year has been the highlight of Brewer’s beginning. “The process of recording a song isn’t as enjoyable to me as performing it live is,” Brewer admits. “It’s hard to conceptualize your reach as an artist, which is what makes the live performance so significant.” He lives for that butterflies feeling that clenches your stomach before you’re about to do something scary, like sing your heart out.

His new album, which is set to release late spring of this year, is an introspective and reflective study of life in your early 20s. “It’s uncomfortably transparent,” Brewer notes. “I wanted to release this album in a really unique way where I’ve slowly released the singles so you can hear the progression of the new sound.” 

For a long time, people have labeled Brewer as a “nice guy.” This is a notion that he’s taken the time to explore in his new music. “I’m not really sure how it happened,” he laughs. “But I’m just embracing it.” There’s a real contradiction between this identity and some of the themes presented in the new album, as he aspires to bring emotional breakdowns to life through lyrics and melody. After listening to this album, “I think people are going to see me in a really different, more comprehensive light.”

“loverboy,” the next single off his new album, is the first song Brewer has put together without overthinking. “I hate writing upbeat songs because I find it really hard not to be cheesy,” Brewer laughs. “So ‘loverboy’ was tricky for me.” But it was also the song that took the shortest amount of time to write. This new track is much more audience-focused than his earlier music, echoes and ‘oh-yeahs’ fill out the chorus, as Brewer wants this song to be fun for crowd engagement in the live performance. It’s available for streaming on February 2nd

After having accomplished so much in just a few years, Brewer advises that fellow young artists focus their attention on creating for them and developing a unique presence that’s going to draw an audience’s attention. He mentions that it’s okay to care what people think and how they’ll react to your art: “You just have to make sure you’re surrounding yourself with the right kind of people.” People who will equally provide support and challenge. “If you want to relate to the masses, you have to understand how the masses feel,” he concludes. 

For the future, continuing live performances is at the top of Brewer’s To-Do list. He also plans to continue growing FRNDLY media and looks forward to the second annual FRNDLY fest this summer. Brewer states, “I’m going to keep doing things that scare me.” He chases that feeling of discomfort that comes from doing something frightening, knowing that overcoming obstacles in life is inherently the most relatable, human thing. This is how he registers his growth as an individual and as an artist. 

“There’s no better way to motivate me than by telling me that I can’t do something,” Brewer says. The music industry should watch out for what this next something is, because there’s no doubt Brewer will tackle it head on.

Molly MacDuff
Molly MacDuff

Molly MacDuff is a writer and editor currently attending Emerson College’s Publishing and Writing MA program.