Still loving these projects from Mallcops, Anjimile, the Michael Character, and Squitch
There has been a lot on our minds this past year: police brutality, racial injustice, economic insecurity, and, of course, the constant threat of a global pandemic.
While some of us buried our heads in the sand and just tried to get by, many local musicians used their forced downtime to churn out new projects, more than a few of which play off of the insecurity, fear, and panic we have all experienced.
Here are some local drops from the past several months that we will be playing long into the post-pandemic era.
Mallcops – We Made Plans to Self-Destruct and Return to the Stars
With a runtime of just under 30 minutes, alt-punk outlet Mallcops put out one of the most digestible, and arguably one of the most dynamic albums in the local scene last year. Winning the Boston Music Award for Punk/Hardcore Artist of the Year in 2020, Mallcops continues to impress on We Made Plans to Self-Destruct and Return to the Stars.
Made up of Joey Del Ponte, Tyler Graham, Drew Moro, and Jimmy Del Ponte, the four-piece band tackle vulnerability alongside guitar-heavy, thrashing instrumentals on this LP. The misanthropic opener, “The Rise and Fall,” presents a Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque version of attachment, wherein one relies on a single person to console them as the world around them falls apart. It’s on this track that the idea of the stars emerges, with space being seen as the ideal place to retreat to in order to escape the sadness of the “real world.” The idea of longing for an alternate existence and despair underlines the project.
A standout track is “Safety Pins and Fragile Things,” an ode to feeling like a burden. It’s blunt in its examination of insecurity, as the lyrics paint a picture of heading to a space paradise where you don’t have to worry about tripping over yourself or your words. There are also some tracks, like “Restraint,” that carry meaning but ultimately charm you by sweeping you away in their catchy riffs. It’s hard to imagine this one not being played live and watching a crowd fall into a collective daze, all dancing and moving in time.
Above all, it’s an album about love, whether that is running away hand-in-hand with a lover, or self-soothing in order to survive and reckon with uncertainty. Cliché as themes like those may come across after a year of such division, they are nonetheless resonant.
The Michael Character – Oh Shoot!
The Michael Character’s, or James Ikeda’s, Bandcamp bio reads, “It’s political music, whatever.”
On his thirteenth album under this name, Ikeda dives further into his politically-charged, impassioned brand of music, focusing on both internal and external conflicts. Nearly every song was written in the summer of 2020, right in the thick of the pandemic.
Working as a history teacher and moonlighting as a singer-songwriter, Ikeda toes the line between educator and educated, using his music as a platform to inspire others as well as a call for guidance and solidarity in a rapidly-changing world.
Opening track “Matty’s Coming Home” waxes fearful about the declining state of the world, referencing social media burnout and overstimulation. It’s “hard to kick back and relax when you keep up with the news,” Ikeda concludes. Another standout, “My Conspiracy Theory Neighbors,” addresses conflicting political views between friends and loved ones, or in this case, between conversative neighbors and Ikeda himself, with him attempting to make peace with their political affiliation by looking for the good in their kindness towards him. “30” sees Ikeda especially poignant as he copes with growing older, worrying about complacency and ruminating on his regrets.
Through it all, Ikeda’s masterful changes in pitch connote pain. Expect lots of heartfelt, spoken word poetry over plucky guitar riffs. For fans of escapism through art, beware: Ikeda’s work forces you to examine the uncomfortable and take stock of your reactions. You can’t listen without being wholly present in current events. Everything is on the table in this expansive LP—Marxism, the criminal justice system, right vs. left politics, and general malaise directed towards the world at large. The payoff is huge, though; by the end of Oh Shoot!, you’re breathless but enlightened.
Squitch – Learn to be Alone
On Squitch’s Learn to be Alone, an album so aptly named that it’s hard to believe it was written and recorded pre-pandemic, the group establishes that they’re at their best when they’re a little off-kilter. Fronted by Em Spooner, the three-piece band and Disposable America signee radiates angsty, unapologetic queer energy on their newest project.
Managing to straddle the line between multiple genres, including punk, lo-fi, and art rock, “Learn to be Alone” is a rollicking trip through topics like mental health, self-esteem, and relationships.
The LP leads off with a track called “Egg”—a kitschy song about dissociation and the downsides of having a brain that’s perpetually in fight or flight mode. Tracks like “Reservoir” continue this theme, speaking to being downtrodden in a battle against one’s own mind.
The band shows off their instrumental chops particularly well on “Rut,” which is laden with slick percussion and heavy riffs, as well as “Splintered Gaze,” which is underscored by a thundering bassline.
This force of an album wraps up with “Night Star,” a soft indie-rock-esque closer. It’s a rare peaceful moment, but a nonetheless cathartic good time.
Learn to be Alone is unabashedly left-of-center. While its DIY nature won’t charm everyone, it is endearing to listen to something so raw and organic. The lyrics, which read like painfully honest notebook margin musings, combined with the way Spooner switches between confident, punchy vocals and high-pitched yelps result in a heartfelt ode to being a difficult, yet still wholly lovable, person.
Anjimile – Reunion
A modest three-track EP from folk singer-songwriter Anjimile culminates in an explosive celebration of life and love. A collaborative project with indie artists Jay Som, Sasami, and Lomelda, Reunion offers each of the three artists a chance to reimagine a track from Anjimile’s 2020 debut album, Giver Taker. The result—gorgeous, symphonic reworkings of already standout tracks. Anjimile’s lyrics coupled with the fresh, new visions that these artists bring, plus the backing of a string chorus helps these tracks balloon into swelling, theatrical numbers.
“In Your Eyes (Reflection),” as reimagined by Jay Som, features a haunting violin-backed intro over a confrontation of one’s true identity. Sasami’s take on “Maker (Refraction)” continues the idea of soul-searching and learning to be one’s own best advocate, particularly amidst outside scorn and disapproval. “1978 (Reunion),” revisited by Lomelda, takes an innocent approach to longing, seeking emotional rebirth through a relationship with a kind stranger.
Each track on the project is given an addition beside its name in parentheses—either “Reflection,” “Refraction,” or “Reunion.” Normally, these terms refer to the tossing and movement of light. Here, they come to mean that even as these songs are handled by various artists, they still return familiar to the listener, true to Anjimile’s artistic voice and vision. Just as light rays bounce around yet ultimately return to the source, these songs remain accessible, and are made even more beautiful by their reimaginings.
These revisitations allow Anjimile’s songwriting to be elevated to new heights of interpretation and meaning. Previously heartfelt tracks become something more, with the introduction of a chorus turning them goosebump-inducing. It’s a stunningly self-aware exploration of one’s identity, wrestling with what exactly makes us who we are.