REVIEW: The Drums “Abysmal Thoughts”

By: Mackenzie Manley

 “I look in the mirror/ when the sun goes down/I ask myself/“Who are you now?”

 The Drums’ fourth album, Abysmal Thoughts, at first listen feels fused with 1980s pop; Jonny Pierce seemingly evokes the likes of Morrissey, dribbled in a complex fusion of melancholy, wandering existentialism and dreamy reverb. Pierce’s voice feels alone and stark; though the instruments often waver into the midst of lo-fi, slacker vibes, Pierce feels poignant.

In previous albums, the music felt lighter and oozed with beach vibes, like wave-infused singles “Let’s Go Surfing” or the lackadaisical “Days.”  Somehow, now, the music is drowning even more in ’80s nostalgia. But perhaps the most notable difference lies in the lyrics–wrapped in less distortion, energetic synthesizers but with more subtle sounds blended within the melodies–where Pierce, in his thirties,  seems to revel in coming-of-age angst.

But perhaps the most notable difference lies in the lyrics–wrapped in less distortion and energetic synthesizers, and replaced with more subtle sounds blended inside melodies–where Pierce, in his thirties,  seems to revel in coming-of-age angst.

But still, the jangly guitar melodies carry us home.

The Drums, with the departure of Jacob Graham and the rest of the band, is now solely in the hands of Pierce. In the process of creating the album, he was also dealing with a new divorce. Growing up gay in a society that hadn’t yet accepted it, Pierce was reluctant to reveal his sexuality in earlier albums. In Abysmal Thoughts, Pierce doesn’t refrain or shield any aspect of himself. It’s an album of reflection and stirring.

Each track poses and explores a different question. In Blood Under My Belt Pierce feels desperate, scraping while sunshine-infused notes rising to the surface. He asks over and over “What does it take for you to believe that I’ve changed” before reassuring the audience that “I know very well that I have blood under my belt” and “I guess it’s true that I hurt you, but I love you. I do. I still do.”  It’s a post-breakup feeling–both in relation to platonic and romantic fallouts–that feels undeniably familiar.

Pierce is an artist aware of his own faults, a much-needed narrative in the music scene at large. His lyrics are rife in emotional pain and uncertainty but he melds it to beats and melodies that are unafraid to glimmer and dance.  In a world that where nihilism feels trendy, Pierce seems to play with both shadow and light, unafraid to search for meaning.

Like unfurling from sleep and waking to morning light pouring into a messy room, Pierce doesn’t know the answers or if he can shed his current negativity, and yet he embraces it. Eyes blinking, limbs stretching. It’s a new day, a new album, and a new sliver of life.

 

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Click on the photo to check it out on Spotify. 

 

 

Film Review: Your Name

I wrote this piece with Jude Noel of Half-Gifts. 

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(2016 Toho, Funimation)

JN: Reveling in rustic charm, Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name is an earnest work of magical realism that’s tempting to compare to Studio Ghibli’s subtler works like Whisper of the Heart. On the surface, such a comparison seems inevitable. From its marriage of bygone myth and modern development to the twee roundness of each character’s facial features, the 2016 anime film is dripping in Miyazaki-isms.

Perhaps, though, it’s the aesthetic similarities to past Ghibli works that conversely set Your Name furthest apart from the studio that produced Spirited Away, which last year dropped to second place behind Shinkai’s new film in the list of all-time high grossing anime features. While Ghibli controversially made the leap to cel-shaded 3D animation on their first foray into television, Ronja the Robber’s Daughter, in 2014, Your Name feels like a re-affirmation of 2D tradition despite the fact that it was animated by the younger Comix Wave Films.

At its thematic heart, Your Name’s beats snugly between youthful ambition and tradition. Spanning adolescence and adulthood; countryside and city; mysticism and secularism; it’s a coming-of-age film for the post-industrial world as much as it is for the teenage duo it stars.

MM: The appeal of movies that encapsulate the world of teenagers exists in their ability to mold wonderment to cynicism and swirling hormones to existential drama. Your Name perfectly captures adolescence blended to art that is both magical and, at times, hyper-realistic.  

It’s a film of loss and gain–an exploration of a feeling that’s arguably a cornerstone of the human experience: the nagging irritation that something is missing from oneself, just out of reach of discovery.

Taki is a teen boy who attends high school in Tokyo. Mitsuha is a teen girl who lives and attends school in a quaint town in the mountains, layered in tradition and mysticism. Arguably the center focus of the film, she becomes a representation of the intersection between traditionalism and modernism.

They switch bodies two or three times a week at random without any real explanation as to why it’s happening. It just is. To keep track of one another they keep notes in their counterparts’ phone and their lives begin to bleed together into one.

“Who are you?” The duo asks over and over. Despite the premise of body-switching not being anything new, the film doesn’t lack ingenuity. Shinkai uses this worn concept and wields it to expose juxtapositioning parts.

JN: As Your Name’s narrative progresses, it becomes evident that a sense of where one belongs is integral to finding out who they are.

Though the schools that Taki and Mitsuha attend serve as the central hub of their respective stories, the two develop their collective sense of self as they venture outside the classroom. Many high-school anime use secondary education as a microcosm for the world from which their characters rarely escape.

The “do-nothing” after-school club has become a trope, solidified by popular series like K-On, Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai, and Inou Battle – though these shows may lead their casts on brief excursions to fast-food chains, amusement parks, etc., there is always a persistent gravitational pull back to lockers and wooden desks. Much of the anime churned out today stems from a Stockholm syndrome-like relationship with education: it is perpetually trapped in 9th grade and marked by cozy slackerism.

Though to a certain degree, these elements are present in Your Name, (particularly the coziness), the film is marked by its sense of scope. Taki and Mitsuha experience much of their personal growth while out exploring the world. As the pair navigate their symbiosis, the former works as a waiter, building the confidence he needs to speak to the co-worker he has a crush on. The latter gains a newfound respect for the archaic traditions and rituals of her hometown.

It isn’t long before each character’s journey leads them to remote, beautifully animated locations, and simultaneously, to a spiritual understanding of their counterpart.

MM: I feel like I’m always searching for something, someone.” They say with faces upturned.

The duo’s thought is one that reverberates throughout civilization, no matter where or when or who you are. It’s this search, stroked in hazy idealism and melancholy, that is exemplified with poignancy. It’s honest and self-aware without feeling cliched or trying too hard. We wake and go to sleep with the characters; we watch as they scramble within themselves and each other.

Despite never meeting one another, they become centers of support for each other. As the film goes on, the characters don’t seem so disparate. They pick up parts of one another and in this action they develop as a unit. 

Perhaps the greatest strength of this film, and the reason it has gained acclaim, is not only its undeniable beauty but its ability to mold something outlandish and apply it to reality.

The scenes splay out with precise details–and just like the subjects of the film–the art is a crossroad between two realms. Each scene is built upon the other; be it characters walking down busy city streets or pedaling up steep hillsides. It is intricately wound with small details woven into the fabric of the animation. 

In their searching, we begin to believe in them–two jostled and confused teenagers exploring what it means to be a person, and what it means to love and live.

Splinter.

 

Author’s note: This is a fiction piece. In writing it, I wanted to experiment with a braided, more lyric and dreamlike structure. The piece surrounds grief and is explored in both abstractions as well as in more literal prose. 

The forest dripped in mist and smelled of freshly churned dirt. My bare feet sank into scolding vines and twisted roots. I lifted my foot with difficulty as a slant of pale yellow slid through the cracks of pine trees. The sound of Miles Davis’ jazz number, “’Round Midnight” was faint in the distance;the saxophone was smooth and sounded like my mother swinging her hips in the kitchen to soundless music, sliding the drawers open and boiling tea.

I followed the sound and sank deeper into the filth. My chest felt tight and I clenched my fists into a ratty, blue wool coat. A drop of rain slid off a leaf and drug itself across the planes of my face.

Light slunk across the gray-green table. My chin slid on the palm of my hand, wrapped in drowsiness. A voice murmured on the intercom and I fell into consciousness.

The community college cafeteria was shaded in pale green interrupted by a yellow stripe. I knitted my legs tight together, elbows close to my side. I scanned my schedule and had an hour to waste. Bodies mingled past me, voices that knew one another. I picked at a thread on my ratty cardigan and watched it unravel.

I came home to my mother on the couch. She laid on her side with the remote control loose in her outstretched hand. The curtains were drawn and a Frasier rerun was on. I filled a glass of water and placed it by her head. Perching on the edge of the couch, my eyes traced the slant of light coming through the blinds in the otherwise dim room. The room smelt stale; tissues and a half-consumed plate of pasta sat on the rickety wood table.

Her chest rose and fell shakily in sleep as I reached for the remote, placing her cold hand back on the couch.  I made myself a cup of coffee and walked upstairs. I sprawled out on the bed. I reached for my Walkman sitting on the desk, and played Belle and Sebastian’s album “Boy with the Arab Strap.” My mother’s snores downstairs melded to the twinkling melodies and the vocalist’s slouchy, wavering notes. From the view of my window, complete with a frilly reading area, I watched cars drive by in transient blurs.

I came upon a hill and climbed upward. A clearing of trees revealed a small waterfall and creek as the rain slid down my back. Blurred animals scurried in search of shelter.  The mist became less dense as I moved up. A robin laid on the ground; its wing twitched. The fog made it look hazy as a warbled whistle escaped from its throat. I bent down and removed a twig jammed into its wing.

My lips formed and ‘O’ and I filled the air with my own unpracticed music, a sound more like breathing than a whistle.

I swung my legs over my bed. I heard my father downstairs making a smoothie. The churning sound jarred my lethargic senses. He was carrying on a conversation with my mother, mostly one-sided.

When I was a child she would come to my room in the morning humming softly before touching my shoulder.

“Wake up, Liz.”

She wore a pair of high-waisted jeans and an old t-shirt. Her hair was soft and naturally black, framing her face in unkempt waves. She sat on the edge of my bed and braided my hair, occasionally reaching for the coffee and buttered toast she made each morning. She kept potted plants in each window. After braiding my hair, she watered the plants in my windowsill, singing softly while the sun wrapped itself around her olive skin.

I drummed my fingers along my comforter and placed my feet on the ground, an exhaustive act. Going downstairs, my father looked at me over his shoulder. A tiredness pinched his lips as he smiled. He had laid my mother’s breakfast, joined with a glass of water and two different pills sitting side by side, even though she had gone back to the master bedroom.

“I made lunch for you. Curry. Grandma’s recipe.”

“Thanks,” I mirrored his tight smile as he slid a plate to me.

“Your mother slept well last night. She was able to eat some pasta before she went to bed. Do you want a ride to school? I don’t mind; it’ll be on my way to her appointment. I think grandma is going to pick her up later.” His sentences ran together, fast and mangled. He sipped on his drink. A coffee stain marked his gray button-up. He rose as a noise came from the master bedroom and wrung his hands.

The halls felt narrow as I walked towards College Algebra. The sound of curry sloshed around in my lunch pail and reminded me of the broken washing machine in my youth. My mother would prop a chair against the door to keep it from popping open, the whirring was dissonant with her hums. I’d sit on the cold tile floor to smell the swell of detergent. My father folded the clothes over his knee, relishing in the warm fabric across his scratchy hands.

Sliding into the left-hand desk, I pulled out my moleskin notebook. My hand slumped against my chin and I used the other to scribble down notes and doodle in the margins. The numbers seemed to slip off the whiteboard, escaping consciousness.I attempted to move forward, but the robin began to fade into the undergrowth. Vines and tendrils of mud ensnared it. A squawk rose from underneath and jazz music returned—I recognized it as Charles Mingus from a record my parents played. It was damning–saxophones slipping and drums like splintering wood.

I attempted to move forward, but the robin began to fade into the undergrowth. Vines and tendrils of mud ensnared it. A squawk rose from underneath and jazz music returned—I recognized it as Charles Mingus from a record my parents played. It was damning–saxophones slipping and drums like splintering wood.

The robin became transparent and I felt myself slipping backward into the warm atmosphere.My father sat on the edge of a white bed with metal barriers on the side. An IV dripped. I slipped my shoes off and wool socks clasped my legs. The sky was gray outside. The sound of traffic whined beneath us, the breath of society. A half-eaten cup of applesauce was by my side. I glanced at my father. We used to sit with each other on the porch, when we still had time to relax and read beside one another. His books were often stained; he read them in the bathtub, while drinking coffee, and after work with dinner. My books were clean; I never creased the edges of my pages to hold my place and was careful not to stain them.

My father sat on the edge of a white bed with metal barriers on the side. An IV dripped. I slipped my shoes off and wool socks clasped my legs. The sky was gray outside. The sound of traffic whined beneath us, the breath of society. A half-eaten cup of applesauce was by my side. I glanced at my father. We used to sit with each other on the porch, when we still had time to relax and read beside one another. His books were often stained; he read them in the bathtub, while drinking coffee, and after work with dinner. My books were clean; I never creased the edges of my pages to hold my place and was careful not to stain them.

On his knee sat a book, hardly worn. He reached his hand to my mother and touched the bottom of her wrist. Her veins were like the roots of her now dying plants, sitting in every windowsill, making our house cohesive. Her eyes slit open and a sloppy smile rose on her face. Her skin looked translucent. She circled her thumb around the bottom of his hand. The book fell off his knee and I reached my hand forward, placing it on my mother’s knee.

We were at a pool and I was young. Our hands clasped one another and we spun in the water. We were swirling, chlorinated water splashing upwards and dropping back down; it littered our faces. My mother made whooshing sounds as my father laughed; I wore floaties around my arms as a song by Pavement played over the speaker system. The sky was clear and a group of robins were hopping in  a nearby puddle.

I brought the water to my mother’s lips but she wouldn’t take it.

“It was beautiful,” my father said, eyes unfocused. “Everything was so beautiful.” His head slunk forward as my mother closed her eyes.

Her hair had thinned and it obscured her face. I rested my hand on my father’s shoulder and he leaned into her. A nurse came in and gave us her condolences. The Algebra from earlier was stuck in my head, wandering numbers displacing themselves across the sterilized room. My chest felt tight and my limbs heavy; the nurse was talking but I couldn’t hold onto her words. The clearing was filling with mist again and I fell to the ground. Coltrane played to the tune of my mother’s hums. I was a child and she was by my bedside pointing at constellations through my window. She wore flannel PJ bottoms and a Sonic Youth t-shirt. I was a child and she was my mother and she told me that she loved me.

The forest was screeching and the mist warped into fire. I looked beside me and saw my father’s back turned, staring into the breadth between trees. I called to him and voice felt lost against the walls of the forest. He turned to me and was suddenly inches away. He held a dead robin in his hands and we breathed in the rising smoke.

A streamlined beeping filled my senses and seeped into the corners of the hospital room. The sheets my mother laid on were damp with sweat and my father’s forehead rested on her arms. He was murmuring a prayer in his native Sanskrit, which I never tried to learn from him despite him asking over and over. Curry lapped at my sides, the only thing I had consumed that day. My cheeks were salty and my body felt warm and cold at the same time. It searched for a way outside of itself.

I started humming, quietly and then loudly. I hummed over her body, rubbing her hand with my fingers. The nurse tried to speak, but I couldn’t hear her. A flood of workers poured into the room and I scooted back; I rested my head on my father’s shoulder. I picked up his book and laid it on his knee. He hummed with me, as the radio bristled with sputtering jazz. Bill Evans. “Let’s Go Back to the Waltz.”

“Love you,” I whispered, voice caught in the airless room.

Any Gracious Heart: Review

Album Artwork for "Any Gracious Heart."

Album Artwork for “Any Gracious Heart.”

I dipped my finger into the Ohio River; my tongue was swollen with Ale-8 and a whimpering breeze weaved through the hollow spaces between my limbs. A friend was nearby; she shaped the atmosphere through the lens of a new film camera. I adjusted my own lens, feeling unfocused in the blanket of overcast sky.

There was a stillness in this moment that felt plucked from the aesthetics of Pleasance House’s “Any Gracious Heart.” Moving through bare branches, which clung to one another in the chill of winter, we came to another shore of pebbles. Here, the sun could be seen filtering through the clouds, creating a milky glow. The sun inched along the river; Pleasance House’s placid beauty stems from this same haunting stillness; the stripped down strumming is reminiscent of a walking through a sleepy town, clouds ready to surrender to rain.

In “Second Home,” his voice is floating on its back in a lake, eyes blinking away debris. He feels distant and reaching, the guitar and his voice merged into a cohesive unit. Connor Burnett sings, “Second home/Michigan/Is the place /Where I found/Summer’s love.” The mention of Michigan brings me back the dreary and dream-tinged lakes, rivers, and streams in the Midwest. He creates a soundscape cool to the touch with soft edges, strangely persistent in its quietness.

A white house overlooked the Ohio River and my eyes traced its dirty, white vinyl siding. My Ale-8 was drained and I peered at the water through the green glass, creating a blurred, hardly recognizable landscape. Upon hearing “I Will,” the song was immediate. It induced a childlike fever from within, memorized by the layers of melancholy juxtaposed with a sense of airy hope. I was a child riding in my dad’s black Ford pickup, cranking down the window; I placed my elbow on the edge of the car, sacrificing my hand to the will of the wind.

The ending track was like a slowed down, Northeastern version of a Beach Boys tune, hand tracing the edge of a murky river, watching the ripples quietly bristle past one another. “Any Gracious Heart” is an album that one wakes up to, scraping sleep off the planes of its face, self-aware and anchored. It’s still while searching, quietly humming along the chilled breeze.

Thursday Morning. Alone at a crosswalk downtown.

A man called for me. Not by my name, no. “Hey, lil’ mama,” he shouted. My red folder was tucked under my arm, just back from an appointment. I stared ahead. It was nearing 10 in the morning and I was alone walking towards a crosswalk. My stomach was drained of food, coffee lapping at its sides.

I ignored him, feet turned inwards and cowering. I wanted to slip into the cracks of the sidewalk, interweave myself with the weeds trying to push their way out. A haze of sleep lingered on my skin when he said that I looked tired. I imagine that a ring of lilac had settled under my eyes, my bare face making me look younger.

“Do you have a hangover or something?” He asked; my mouth felt disjointed, like my mother trying to close the broken blinds of our sliding glass window. His body was close to me, his arm hair meeting mine and his face peering down at me. My throat was a blocked interstate. All I could think about is how close he is, this stranger in a white shirt. An older man passed by us, the orange hand across the street still winking at me, withholding my release.

His eyes moved up and down my body, up and down and down and up and up and down and repeat and repeat. I could feel his breath on me as he told me that I was beautiful. He asked how old I was, if I was underage. My fault, I thought. I shouldn’t be down here alone. What choice did I have? I stepped away and he stepped forward.

My eyes diverted and I shrink. I was the possum my mother found on our sidewalk one Saturday, flipped on its back with its legs dangling in the air as a cat sniffed its side. Small. I felt so small. I wondered if he’d follow me to my car, just feet away. My brain combed through anything I learned in the past about self-defense. My knees knitted together, arm tight around my red folder.

There was a couple walking in our direction and their conversation hung loosely in the humid air. They stood at the other side of us, their eyes meeting mine. I felt him dissipate from me.   The orange hand–Don’t walk!–turned to a glaring white walking figure. I was released, his eyes darted to me and then to the new arrivals. He went left and I went forward, thumb resting on the edge of my car keys.

And he shouted to me across the street, still, calling me beautiful. His proximity lingered as I slunk into my Nissan, hands clinging to the faux leather wheel. I looked down at my wrist, tracing the cerulean veins. The swell of my anxiety receded, a devious riptide.

It was Thursday morning and all I could remember was him.

“You’re beautiful.”

Author’s note: I wrote this originally as a poem and later translated it to prose for my advanced creative non-fiction class, where I’ve been writing flash nonfiction. I wanted to capture the feeling that one experiences when a stranger invades their space without permission. This moment feels universal for many women. Often, I feel as if these situations make us feel small (though we are not). On this particular morning, I had an appointment in Downtown Cincinnati; it was a situation that wasn’t surprising, but it is a narrative that I wish we didn’t have to grapple with. If you’ve been made to feel small, by a stranger or otherwise, I hope this makes you feel less alone. 

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Taken by Mary Andrikus

Year of the Rabbit–Eskimeaux: Review

“Oh! how our song’s been sung, dropping petals one by one. Oh! what power can be drawn from just a day of being alone.”

Traces left in lush snow, Year of the Rabbit feels like snowed-in day, a warm and lush interior–curled up on the couch coffee in hand–contrasted with an exterior of chilled insecurity and wandering indecision. Earbuds in, the six tracks grasp at the listener as if one is snowbound with front-woman Gabrielle Smith. Surprisingly intimate, her lyricism is believable and exposed.

Smith’s voice feels like slinking into a freshly drawn bath after a long day, air tinged in lilac wayward suds, lights dimmed to a whisper and heavy eyelids coming to a close. She is reflective, an exposed coffee-stained journal that the previous tenant left behind.

What makes Year of the Rabbit one of my favorite releases of 2016 is this timid, intimate tone Smith embodies throughout. The guitars feel soft behind her, matching her breaths, a child on an old sleigh, directionless but free. The drums intensify the undercurrent of anxiety, crafting a  juxtaposition soundscape of whisper and alarm.

Late in 2016, I was able to see Eskimeaux live at Southgate House Revival. Faint light slanted through stained glass windows, drowning in catholic imagery. Her voice felt contained in the walls, reverberating through the atmosphere. Her slight timidness felt relatable, not forced, and I felt understood.

Her questioning lyrics– “Are you mad?”, and “Are you home?”– accompanied with moments of placidity and a softer tone feel at home in my 20-year-old world. It’s an album of figuring oneself out, as well as one’s relationships.

Earbuds in, my Schnauzer bounds through the snow. Year of the Rabbit acts as a backdrop, a car uneasily drives past us. Smith’s voice contorts to my surroundings. My senior year of college encroaching, it’s an album that reassures me through its display of unabashed insecurity.

I bend down and gather snow in my hand, forming a ball. Throwing it into the air, fat flakes wither into the grey sky. In Year of the Rabbit, Smith’s shared intimacy becomes a universal feeling, dabbled in muted colors of nostalgia, growing older, the search for grounded companionship and not knowing what’s to come.

Featured in Half-Gifts’s 2016 zine.