This past Monday, September 5, four bands took the stage at Bushwick’s Purgatory for a varied night of rock music capping off Labor Day weekend.
Debbie Dopamine opened the show, following a spectacular Sunday set at Rippers in Far Rockaway (see pics/writeup). Singer Katie Ortiz, bassist Dylan Lapointe, and drummer Zach Rescignano (whom Katie endearingly referred to all as “Debbies” during their set) played seven songs across roughly half an hour, including the entirety of their stunning debut EP, Pets, released at the end of July (read our review).
While Pets makes an ideal listen for sitting alone in one’s room with all the lights turned off, there’s an added magic to seeing the band perform the songs live. “Tight-knit,” “joyful,” and “grateful” are all appropriate adjectives to describe the ethos of Debbie Dopamine’s stage presence on Monday as they performed on a glittery blue stage in front of a dedicated group of fans.
The band started off with “Get Better,” which is also the first song off of Pets. In addition to performing every song off their new EP, they also played an unreleased track titled “Marzipan,” appropriately placed before “Sour” which makes a reference to sucking on candy until it’s sour. Throughout the entirety of their set, Debbie Dopamine’s cohesiveness and talent truly blossomed as smiles were exchanged and notes were played with particular enthusiasm.
Rounding out the rest of the night were Stimmerman, Mister Goblin, and Maneka. New York’s Stimmerman brought some seriously good bass, Indiana’s Mister Goblin brought the soulful screams, and Maneka brought reflective rock. It was a fully fantastic night of music and each band showed their support for each other, which was lovely to bear witness to. One of my favorite parts of the night was when Mister Goblin’s vocalist Sam Goblin mentioned that the only time he’d ever cried at a show was when he saw Maneka perform. Be sure to catch all of these bands around your part of town when you can!
Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Amanda Meth)
In Debbie Dopamine’s debut EP, Pets, the songwriting project of Brooklyn-based musician Katie Ortiz spells out what it means to embrace being a mess. From catchy instrumental arrangements to brutally honest lyrics, Ortiz has deliveredan album that is acutely self-aware and unapologetic while establishing herself as a serious force of an artist. With six songs that span 20 minutes and 49 seconds, Pets is a deeply thought-provoking and worthwhile work of art. In addition to creating a record with a healthily varied sound and style, Ortiz gives plenty of room to each of her songs without them ever becoming drawn-out. Through striking a balance with these elements, Pets commands an attentive listen and gets better with each rotation.
Pets opens with “Get Better,” which is a song that is about not wanting to get better. Anchoring itself in the narrator’s commitment to being unwell, “Get Better” sifts through various layers of emotional complexity with lyrics such as “It’s the instinct to heal that drives me insane” and “I feel my best when I don’t feel anything.” Melodically, the song oscillates between breakdowns and more contemplative moments, leaving plenty of moments for catching your breath. Glockenspiel, synths, guitars, drums, and more are all present in this searingly brilliant track, kicking the record off with a bang.
Following “Get Better” is “Eat Cake,” a track that FTA contributor Mike Borchardt has previously written about and whose music video was directed by our very own Jeanette D. Moses. The song picks up where “Get Better” thematically left off and serves as an excellent transition into the rest of the album. Ortiz continues to sing about coming to terms with accepting mental instability while also proclaiming that she’s going to make her own happy neurotransmitters. In the second verse, she sings “And everybody said I would be better by now/But I got no more tricks up their sleeves/And I don’t want to waste their time any more/Waiting for my dopamine” and by the song’s end, she decides, “I’m not gonna waste my life anymore/I’ll make my own dopamine.”
Providing a burst of emotional sovereignty, is the beautiful and cello-heavy “Rhododendrons,” in which Ortiz seems to reflect on her existence in terms of her past and future selves. “Do the new selves that haunt my home/Ever cross paths with all my ghosts” are the brilliant first lines of the song—prompting the listener to question their own identity while bearing witness to Debbie Dopamine’s conundrum. The song elicits imagery of being in a garden, amongst rhododendrons, large and beautiful flowers capable of sheltering many different types of living beings. Cellist Anthime Miller’s work on the track is exceptional while the track’s composition is remarkable.
Although Pets is only six songs long, it feels like a true and complete album. The rest of the tracks (“Interlude,” “Swimming Pool,” and “Sour”) all hold their own in different ways and round out a truly astounding effort on the part of Katie Ortiz and her entire team. “Sour” is a perfect closer while “Swimming Pool” offers a 90’s rock aesthetic with intensely raw lyrics such as “My mother would be so depressed/But she’s not here and I am blessed/To be left behind/Instead of six feet under, killing time.”
Through Pets, Ortiz has created a long-lasting impression with Debbie Dopamine as a formidable figure in both music and artistic ingenuity. I am thrilled to see what’s next for her and can’t wait to rock out whenever she plays around Brooklyn.
In her latest album for Northern Spy Records, Shilpa Ray gets personal, political, and powerful on Portrait of A Lady. With her signature alto belt and harmonium accompanied by a range of other instruments, Ray delivers a timely record tinged with a balance of justified rage and critical contemplation. Not one to ever shy away from social commentary, Shilpa Ray tells off the patriarchy in Portrait of A Lady with 12 songs in just under 42 minutes.
The record also comes at a critical moment for abortion rights—just a few days after the album’s April 29th release, a SCOTUS document was leaked outlining the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade, which later came to pass in June, angering millions. This is a decision that has had dire consequences on the lives of birthing people everywhere, most especially where abortion is illegal. As the United States reckons with restricting access to essential reproductive care, amplifying the voice of an artist such as Shilpa Ray couldn’t be more important.
On her Bandcamp page, it is explicitly stated that the album is about Ray’s experience as a survivor of sexual abuse and assault with her adding: “This album is dedicated to the survivors. May we one day be able to reclaim ourselves.” With Portrait of a Lady, she has done the brave and important work of telling her story in a way that is deeply beautiful, dynamic, and riveting.
The track arrangement allows for plenty of punctuated rage through the interweaving of fast-paced songs with slower ballads while also making space for sadness. The record opens with a song dedicated to Brett Kavanaugh called “Straight Man’s Dream” where Ray throws multiple punches to the Supreme Court Justice through searing commentary. “Ever think you’d be an asshole in high school?/Then be appointed to the highest court of law?/Beers and bros, basketball and hoes/Sweethearts blacked out with your claws over her jaw. Male bonding homo erectus/boy talk with your dick in the stars/what a dream, man, what a dream. I hope you burn from your eczema.“ She repeats the last line a few times until the song’s end, making clear how she’d like to see Kavanaugh disintegrate.
The second song on the album is a reclamation in power. On “Manic Pixie Dream Cunt,” she turns up the heat with a fast-tempo track that features her signature howl with incredible vocal control: “You can go gas lighting/Go gas lighting/Cause Imma gonna burn this palace down/Burn this palace down!/Burn this palace down!” Ray yells throughout the song, clear on her intent to be as destructive as possible when it comes to tearing down structures of patriarchal power. “I’m a manic pixie dream cunt/Yeah I’m a manic pixie queen/I’m a manic pixie dream cunt/Livin’ the manic pixie dream/I’m manic/Up yours morality.” Clearly, she is pissed off and she’s also managed to channel her anger into a memorable and rocking track on Portrait of a Lady.
Shilpa Ray performing (photo by Kate Hoos)
At the end of the album’s A-side is “Cry For The Cameras,” a song where Ray delves into how stories of abuse can become sensationalized. The song features a heart-wrenching opener of “Your story doesn’t have a chance to survive/Unless it’s being heavily televised/Break out those big tears, my darling/Network tears, my darling/Look straight at the lens and learn how to cry.” She is acutely aware of how little the media actually cares about telling the stories of survivors and reminds listeners not to confuse media sensationalism with actual change. Stylistically “Cry For The Cameras” is the most surreal song on the record. She belts in a retro style against a backdrop of harmonium and lightly strummed guitars. The song maintains a slower pace throughout, with an obvious sadness setting the song’s tone.
In detailing her deeply personal experiences as a survivor of sexual abuse and assault, Ray makes sure not to leave out the topics of women working against their own interests and men masquerading as feminists. “Bootlickers of the Patriarchy” was released last November as a single ahead of the album and was written about Senator Susan Collins’ infamous press conference after the Kavanaugh/Blasey Ford hearings (read our review of the single). The song is an important reminder that indeed there are women in the world who are only interested in their own advancement at the expense of other women. “Male Feminist” provides essential commentary on the landscape of men pretending to fight for the rights of women and gender non-conforming people as a method of social gain.
Portrait of a Lady concludes with “Last Wave,” a track where Ray reflects on what she’s been through, and how she might react if feminism had a last wave. “Happy endings are not only for the rich/the thin veneer of civilization/and when we’re equal, I won’t know where to begin/wake me up and tell me what’s my endgame.” The song feels like a distant reality because it is. She is well aware that the fight for the rights of women and non-men is a never-ending fight, but one that is of course necessary. Luckily for us, we have a catchy, sharp, and powerful record to listen to as we work to alleviate the destructive nature of the patriarchy. “What fool thinks a woman could ever break like a little girl? I’ve been waiting with a bat in my hands to put your lights out in this world.”
Shilpa Ray performing (photos by Kate Hoos)
It cannot be overstated just how original Portrait of a Lady truly is. From personal anecdotes to incorporating current events, this is easily one of the most important and relevant releases of the year. Shilpa Ray should be considered an essential listen for anyone who remotely cares about good music and destroying the patriarchy.
Portrait of a Lady is out now via Northern Spy Records and is available on all major streaming platforms.
On Saturday, February 26th, indie rock band Tigers Jaw played Market Hotel to a sold out crowd just a state over from their hometown of Scranton, PA. After a nationwide tour supporting Circa Survive was canceled so vocalist Anthony Green could focus on his well-being, Tigers Jaw managed to pull together their own headlining tour at the last minute. For me, it was a treat to see them headline as I’m a longtime fan who’s only seen them supporting other acts in larger venues. Saturday night did not disappoint as the band played 19 songs, many of which were off their esteemed 2021 release, I Won’t Care How You Remember Me.
Buffalo and Brooklyn-based DIY musician Quinton Brock opened the show with an engaging and invigorating performance, clearly happy to be sharing his songs with neighbors and fellow music lovers. His set consisted mostly of unreleased songs as well as three released singles—“To the Moon,” “Touch,” and “There For You.” With a sound that encompasses elements of indie, R&B, indie, and punk, Brock approached the crowd with the same kind of openness present in his songs, hyping up the audience and inciting smiles, sing-alongs, and arm waves across the room. A truly talented performer, Brock set the stage for an evening of rocking out by fully activating the audience during his set.
Tigers Jaw began with their 2020 single “Warn Me” before transitioning into a set comprised of songs off several of their albums, including the aforementioned 2021 release I Won’t Care How You Remember Me in addition to spin (2017), Charmer (2014), and Tigers Jaw (2008). Throughout the night fans were crowd surfing, stage diving, and singing their hearts out to the band’s deeply personal and emotionally charged songs. There was minimal stage banter from the band, who were focused on delivering a straightforward and well-versed set. In an hour and a half, Tigers Jaw played 19 songs and missed 0 beats.
Formed in 2005, Tigers Jaw continues to make great music nearly 20 years after their inception. With lead guitarist and vocalist Ben Walsh, keyboardist and vocalist Brianna Collins, bassist Colin Gorman, and drummer Teddy Roberts, the band continues to strengthen their existing body of work by making heart-driven, melancholic, and uniquely beautiful music. At Saturday’s concert, I found myself amongst many fans who were about half my age, which means that Tigers Jaw are aging quite well and hopefully have many years left ahead of them. As someone who’s found myself leaning into the band’s work for my own moments of emotional turmoil, I’m glad that others are able to lean on them in their own way. When the band ended their set with “I Saw Water,” the crowd went wild, eager to throw themselves into the depths of a tiger’s jaw.
Tiger’s Jaw setlist:Warn Me, Cat’s Cradle, Plane Vs. Tank Vs. Submarine, The Sun, Can’t Wait Forever, Hum, Hesitation, Chemicals, Follows, Body Language,Slow Come On, Commit, Never Wanted To, June, I Won’t Care How You Remember Me, Window , Anniversary, Never Saw It Coming, I Saw Water
Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Amanda Meth)
Mitski is back from a three-year long hiatus and her new record, Laurel Hell, has not skipped a single beat. But even if it did, it wouldn’t matter. Because the magic of Mitski is that she creates music which exists by the rules of its own universe. A record centered around how Mitski relates to herself, to lovers, and to her fans, Laurel Hell is a relatable, cinematic, and beautiful body of work. With 11 songs coming in at just over 30 minutes, Laurel Hell is paced well and doesn’t feel rushed even as it packs multiple narratives throughout.
The record opens with “Valentine, Texas,” an emotionally captivating and sweeping track that starts out quietly during the first verse before crescendoing into a louder second half. With Mitski’s signature sound of being both atmospheric and vulnerable, “Valentine, Texas” offers a familiarity to the listener as the record’s opening song. The track’s first lines allude to Mitski’s return as she sings “Let’s step carefully into the dark/Once we’re in I’ll remember my way around/Who will I be tonight/Who will I become tonight/I’ll show you who my sweetheart’s never met/Wet teeth, shining eyes/Glimmering by a fire.” Upon finding out what kind of place Valentine, Texas is, I imagined myself waltzing alone in the dust-filled town of less than 200, a particular kind of peace that is only afforded to certain people. Perhaps a kind of peace that Mitski herself craves often but has trouble accessing with her rising fame.
In “Working For the Knife,” the record’s first single and second track, she dives deeper into the struggle with wanting to create but feeling constrained by expectations as she starts off by singing “I cry at the start of every movie/I guess ’cause I wish I was making things too/But I’m working for the knife.” Sonically, “Working For the Knife” oscillates with industrial and subtly psychedelic elements with a tinge of sadness that fits well with the track’s lyrical content. The music video features her singing and dancing around by herself in a performing arts center, possibly reflecting on the freedom she’s missing from her earlier days as an artist. At the beginning, she walks in with a cowgirl hat (a likely allusion to her last record, Be the Cowboy) and by the video’s end, she writhes around on a stage floor panting heavily, starting over the cycle of baring parts of her soul to the world.
What Mitski does really well on Laurel Hell is establish a kind of theatrical sonic landscape throughout the record where she is watching herself while inviting the listener in to watch her. This is clearly demonstrated in the third verse of “The Only Heartbreaker” where Mitski proclaims: “So I’ll be the loser in this game/I’ll be the bad guy in the play/I’ll be the water main that’s burst and flooding/You’ll be by the window, only watching.”
A deeply sad song about heartbreak, “The Only Heartbreaker” is juxtaposed against a danceable 80’s beat as she sings about herself being the heartbreaker in a relationship. The song’s music video features Mitski dancing in a burning forest, reaching her hands high but unable to get out. Mitski also utilizes this juxtaposition in other songs such as “Love Me More” and “Should’ve Been Me,” offering a contrast in tempo from more solemnly paced songs.
The last song on the album is “That’s Our Lamp,” a track with a funky bass beat about looking at a lamp from outside an apartment where Mitski was once loved. “That’s our lamp/It shines like a big moon/We may be ending/I’m standing in the dark/Looking up into our room/Where you’ll be waiting for me/Thinking that’s where you loved me/That’s where you loved me.” The song preceding it is “I Guess,” which sounds like it very well could be the last song on the album as Mitski ponders a breakup against a contemplative tempo. But it’s important to consider that “That’s Our Lamp” gives closure to the narrative in “I Guess” and offers a more specific location to the aftermath of the breakup as Mitski reflects and mourns the loss of what she had. The more upbeat nature of the song feels like an encore, with the line “that’s where you loved me” repeating eight times throughout the end of the song, bringing the record to a close.
According to a recent interview with Pitchfork, the reason behind Mitski choosing the name Laurel Hell is: ‘Laurel Hell’ is a term from the Southern Appalachians in the U.S., where laurel bushes basically grow in these dense thickets, and they grow really wide… And, I mean, I’ve never experienced it myself, but when you get stuck in these thickets, you can’t get out. Or so the story goes. And so there are a lot of Laurel Hells in America, in the South, where they’re named after the people who died within them because they were stuck. And, so the thing is, laurel flowers are so pretty. They just burst into these explosions of just beauty. And, I just, I liked the notion of being stuck inside this explosion of flowers and perhaps even dying within one of them.
Mitski performing in 2019 (photos by Edwina Hay)
The cover for Laurel Hell features Mitski in a dramatic pose with her eyes closed and hair splayed out in front of black laurel flower leaves in the corner and white lines drawn into cracks forming on her face. She is wearing a red turtleneck and has red lipstick on, and her hands are positioned artistically as if she’s mid-dance.
With Laurel Hell, Mitski has created a record that is notably poppier than her past releases but still explores the condition of what it means to exist in relation to others and how it feels when those relations become undone. An appropriate follow-up to Be the Cowboy, there are repeated themes of longing and regret that color the record without becoming drawn out. What’s crystal clear is that Mitski can keep finding inventive ways to tell her story with catchy beats and heart-wrenching, memorable lyrics.