Dream Pop, Hip Hop, Indie Pop, Interview, Jazz, RPM, Singer-Songwriter

We Carry Us: A Conversation With Bell’s Roar

When the world at large polices your expression, limits your resources, and overlooks your creative efforts simply for being yourself, carving out new and unconventional avenues to success becomes imperative.

Bell’s Roar, the solo project of Sean Desiree, personifies this struggle. The Albany, NY-based musician released We Carry Us last month, a collection of ten gorgeous tracks about trans community, perseverance, rectitude and self-love. Across the record, Desiree meticulously cultivates the most tender and worrisome of feelings around a glut of sounds: it’s alternative soul, jubilant synth-pop, and oceanic dream-jazz from one moment to the next– a viscous, mystifying bedlam.

On the outset of their Art Funds Art Tour, a wonderful funding initiative for marginalized artists, we invited Bell’s Roar to our studios to chat about their newest record, independent musicianship, activism, table-making and more!

This interview was conducted by Hayden Fisher on February 2nd, 2018.

All bed music by Bell’s Roar.

The Art Funds Art Tour:

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http://bellsroarmusic.com/

South End Pallet Works

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Folk, Indie Pop, Review, Rock, Singer-Songwriter

Album Review: Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights

A door creaks shut. Footsteps. A chair is dragged along the floor. Then, she starts to play. 22-year old Tennessee songwriter Julien Baker’s latest album, Turn Out The Lights​, opens with a piano, the same instrument with which she concluded her last album and solo debut, 2015’s Sprained Ankle. The closing track on that album, titled “Go Home”, ends with an extended piano ​reflection on the hymn, “In Christ Alone”, accompanied by serendipitous amplifier interference from church radio. It’s a heartwarming tune, and after that album’s emotional gauntlet, it seemed like an hopeful finish, the warming sun after rainfall.

However, this new opener on Turn Out The Lights​, which came out in October, is a bit different. It’s in a minor key, accompanied by some plaintive strings. As the instrumental progresses, you might start to anticipate something even darker than her last project… but before you can get a clear view, it shifts into a major key​ and a twinkly, finger-picked electric guitar fades in, ​ commencing the first proper song, “Appointments”. The guitar is Julien’s primary instrument, so its gentle reintroduction feels strangely triumphant. Finally, she starts to sing in that unmistakable voice of hers: sharp, crystal-clear, piercing through the moody musical fog like a lighthouse. Her voice often sounds like it might break, the starts and ends of words creaking as though emitting them physically pains her… but boy, does she know how to belt them out, too. Especially on this new album, we see Julien straining her voice to hit emotional climaxes. These are the familiar musical characters in a Julien Baker song, and for the most part, she doesn’t stray from this setup on Turn Out The Lights​. However, what sticks out on this record, and what always sticks out in her work, shows in her lyrics.

If I can be frank for a moment: From one mentally-ill young queer person to another, Julien, I hope you’re okay. The first lines we hear her sing are, “I’m staying in tonight / I won’t stop you from leaving / I know I’m not what you wanted, am I?” The songs on Turn Out The Lights​ ​ , without exception, deal with seriously dark subject matter: depression, drug abuse, broken relationships, suicidal thoughts, religious doubt, etc. For example, the title track concerns the all-too-familiar depressive thoughts that surface when you’re just trying to fall asleep. “Shadowboxing” presents the simplest, most perfect metaphor for mental illness that I’ve somehow never heard before, “Sour Breath” describes a deeply troubled relationship, and “Everything That Helps You Sleep” is Julien’s futile invocation to God for help. Now, none of this is uncharted lyrical territory for Julien. On ​Sprained Ankle, too, she tackled the ​ same topics. Julien consistently draws from a powerful juxtaposition: anthemic sadness. Through some kind of emotional alchemy, she manages to transmute something heavy, personal, and paralyzing into something unifying, something supportive, something inspiring. It’s one of the most basic artistic impulses. When I hear Julien sing these refrains, I can picture all the kids in the front row belting out her own words back at her like it’s gospel: “The harder I swim, the faster I sink.” “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out all right, and I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is.” “When I turn out the lights, oh, there’s no one left between myself and me.” “Well, I heard there’s a fix for everything / Then why, then why, then why / Then why not me?”

In some contexts, Julien’s lyrics can seem basic. She hardly ever uses a complicated metaphor where a simple expression would suffice. As a result, her honesty can sound hackneyed if you’re feeling cynical. Now, I should note that my first experience with Turn Out The Lights​ ​was listening to the whole album while I sat alone in my car at 2:30 AM on a school night. I can’t advocate for that approach (get 8 hours of sleep, y’all), but I will say that, given my circumstances, I was completely ready for whatever Julien had to tell me. I lost track of the moments she verbalized my own neurotic, painful inner monologues, lending them a melody, rendering them beautiful and worthwhile. On another night, I might have rolled my eyes at a line like “I miss you the way that I miss nicotine,”​ ​ but I think it’s important to get past that and see the big-picture emotional value of this album. Turn Out The Lights isn’t groundbreaking. There are more ambitious records, more depressing ​ records, more emotionally “raw” records. Furthermore, it’s not much of a musical change of pace for Julien, delving further into the same sort of songwriting, the same lyrical content, the same emotional sphere as her previous effort. However, I want to emphasize one important difference between this album and Sprained Ankle​ ​ . The last words Julien sang on ​Sprained Ankle were ​“God, I want to go home.” In the context of ​ ​ her lyrics, this is a suicide wish. “That song is about wanting to remove yourself from this plane of existence, because of overwhelming suffering,” Julien told Pitchfork in early November. It’s notable, then, that the last words Julien cries out on Turn Out The Lights​ ​ are “I take it all back, I​ change my mind, I wanted to stay, I wanted to stay.” Fundamentally, I think that’s the crux of this album. Julien may be treading the same ground she’s tread before, but here she’s moving for a different purpose. While Sprained Ankle​ ​ merely documented Julien’s despair, Turn Out The Lights ​thrives valiantly to fuel the last glimmering flames of survival. For that reason alone, it’s worth a listen. At the very least, it’s moving. And for you, perhaps, it may be necessary.

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Anti-Folk, Concert Review, Indie Pop

Review: Regina Spektor @ Smith College, 11/14/17

By Janis Pham & Jess Slattery

On Tuesday, November 14th, Regina Spektor held a special solo performance at Smith College in Northampton. The concert was delayed for half an hour due to technical difficulties, but standing outside of the venue did not deter the droves of fans from showing up to see her perform. Before Regina even took the stage, her fans were shouting their admiration out from the crowd. Sitting down at the piano, Regina opened with “Folding Chair”, inviting the audience to enjoy the show with her with the first line, “Come and open your folding chair next to me.” After every round of applause, she’d modestly whisper into the microphone a small thank you, and would receive joyful laughter from the audience in response.

The John M. Greene Concert Hall was sold out for her performance, but she navigated transitions between songs with such intimacy that it felt as if she were speaking directly to each audience member. Although it was a one woman show, Regina filled the stage with her presence that ranged from mild to booming, accentuating the emotional currents that run throughout her music. She has the uncanny ability to move between pop, folk, opera and musical theater without batting an eyelash. Yet, nothing about it felt abrupt or misplaced. She moved from the song “Pound of Flesh”, a frantic and haunting piece as dramatic as the title suggests, to the tender ballad “Obsolete” without hesitation.

Regina’s small talk and banter were some of the highlights of the show. Between her songs, she often made comments about her day and her appearance, especially when it came to her shoes. She remarked about how tight her shoes were, but joked that the show would go on despite the “suffering she endured for art”. The spiel went on for a few songs, but she eventually paused between songs to retie her shoes.

She is sassier live than she is in most of her studio recordings. What is surprising, never having seen Regina perform live, is how similar her voice is to her recorded versions. It is clear that she relies more heavily on her talent than on electronic voice modification. The only time her voice faltered was during her performance of “My Man”, when she progressively became more flat throughout the song. Despite this, she never faltered and continued on with a gracious “thank you,” in response to the applause.  

Many of her songs have social commentary, whether that be through their lyrics or through the structure of the song itself. “Ballad of a Politician” speaks to the theatrics of men in suits making deals in isolated rooms. She has several light-hearted tunes that play with the structure of most generic pop songs. “Reginassauras” cutely plays on words. “Music Box” allows her to whimsically play with sound effects and noises that almost make the listeners forget about the dark and chilling subject matter that is laced throughout the song, explaining her desire to escape life’s routine by taking a “big gulp” of dish soap.

One of my personal favorite songs that Regina performed was “Poor Little Rich Boy“, a scathing criticism of the superficial masks we put up to give the appearance of perfect lives and hide our self-doubts. With her right hand, she played the keyboard and with her left, she hit a drumstick against a chair with such aggression that I was, at times, surprised she didn’t fall off her bench. All in all, it was an enjoyable experience. 10/9, would recommend!

Image via Rolling Stone. 

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