The genesis of summer is upon us, and with its verdant green and gold also comes a reckoning. What do we do with the remnants of ourselves left over from winter and spring? If you’re heartbroken or enraged or otherwise blasted to bits, the long, sun-soaked hours practically beg you to use their battery life to extract all those bits and pieces of bad like some three-month-long game of Operation, one discarded beer can at a time. On their recently released self-titled LP, which comes on the heels of their 2018 split EP with Grumpster, Oakland rockers Slumped seem well aware of the fact that summer is the only time of year you can scream your frustrations without the wind throwing them back in your face. Just a scan through the song titles feels like hearing a friend cycle through their go-to self-effacing speech: we start with “Felon,” and we end with “Self-Destruct.”
Beyond diving into this album, I also had the pleasure of speaking to Slumped’s vocalist and guitarist Nate this week. The band’s primary songwriter, Nate brings his in-process songs to his bandmates Conner (lead guitar), Connor (base), and Jacob (drums), where the foursome work together to flesh out the finalities of the sound. While there is always going to be “tons of compromises,” during such a process, it’s clear to me that Nate is grateful for the ease of collaboration he has cultivated with his bandmates.
Slumped went in to the creative process of this album looking for, according to Nate, a “thicker” sound. “Gibson over Fender” he emphasized. Crunchy guitars certainly are the name of the game here, topped with distorted vocals and some hints of a more theatrical, White Reaper-esque brand of garage rock, most notably felt during the ascending, wa-wa ending guitar riff on “Sometimes,” which had me wishing I was in the hills (of Oakland, Berkeley, take your pick) air-guitaring with a madly sloshing La Croix.
“Cowboy Riff” and “Quiet Place,” both pre-release singles, don’t sound like they would be out of place on the Freaky Friday or 10 Things I Hate About You soundtracks, an assertion that may seem like an insult to some, but couldn’t be anything further from it. Both of those soundtracks were expertly crafted by someone who recognized that a dash of alternative could elevate the pop leanings of typical teen fare — and vice versa. (And how can you have two pissed-off turn-of-the-century rock girls without some actual rock?) The humming repeated chorus of spiral!/spiral! and entreaties of yeah I’m trying/can you hear me? on “Cowboy” and the bouncy guitars and air-punch riffs of “Place” only make me think that Slumped has more pop sensibilities than they care to let on — at least for now. “Place” is a point of pride for Nate, who wrote it while grappling with becoming an adult and learning that you “can’t expend your energy on people all the time,” quoting the song’s core line to me: on accident/I give everyone everything.
Nate described his work as a feeling like a “diary for myself.” While this isn’t a surprising sentiment to hear from a writer, he also found it gratifying to know that his close friends were likely aware of the meanings behind the songs, regardless of how ambiguous he may have set out to make them. Nate also finds himself fascinated by the experience of Slumped’s listeners. He likes the idea that people are forming theories that may be completely separate from the truth, perhaps reflecting the listener’s experience more than his own. And yet, he was delighted when I told him of my interpretation of “Ruin My Life,” which he confirmed as pretty spot-on. The process of song creation seems to be a constant mirror flip for Nate, switching between the realm of the intensely personal and introspective to the exhibitionistic. I appreciated his honesty about it, mainly because I think most writers — including myself — find some playful satisfaction in the two-sided coin of our venerability and our own perceived mystery.
The gut-punch “Ruin My Life” was my favorite of the bunch, a stop-in-the-middle-of-the-street summertime catharsis song. Listening for the first time on my bed, my face must have looked exactly like the frown emoji, and I may have actually uttered aww aloud. The lyrics are a simple but effective portrayal of the hand-twisting drama of wanting someone to see right through your attempts at neutrality while also wishing you could hide all your feelings under the world’s biggest blanket fort like a reverse Princess and the Pea. Preceding a raucous instrumental lead-out, the song’s final lyrics get at this best: oh god I hope you haven’t figured me out/pick up the phone and/ I’ll tell you now/if you just pick up I could/tell you right now.
Today, it is a shocking 73 degrees. I can’t wait to fling my first piece of wintertime shrapnel aside with that line echoing in my head.