Mexican Summer’s 2021 Looking Glass Singles Provide Words of Wisdom for 2022

Given the continuing chaos that 2021 had to offer, many of us are still struggling to find a way forward three weeks into the new year. Once again, Brooklyn imprint Mexican Summer offered some delicately-rendered advice in the form of their continuing Bandcamp-centric Looking Glass singles series. The project began with a bang in 2020, including more than two dozen previously unreleased tracks by everyone from label stalwarts like Peaking Lights, Jess Williamson and Geneva Jacuzzi to up-and-coming artists like Madison McFerrin and Lucy Gooch. While Looking Glass scaled back to just four single releases for the 2021 series, each packed its own therapeutic punch. Beyond their poignant lyrics, the artists were able to provide some additional insight into what got them through the maelstrom, and how they plan to keep going.

NYC-and-Berlin-based duendita kicked off the series with her stunning, cryptic “Open Eyes.” “had a bad dream/what could it mean?/who could i be?” she croons in its opening lines before returning with a poetic balm: “courage and strength/all of our days.” And later: “face my mistakes/never too late/love them away!”

Along with duendita’s soothing advice came the softly-strummed “Equinox” from New Zealand singer-songwriter Maxine Funke. She says she wrote a bunch of songs for Looking Glass in May of 2021 after Mexican Summer reached out to her Australian label A Colourful Storm with an invite to participate. “It coincided with a time when I was really relishing the hours after midnight,” Funke says. “I was working a very social job and living next door to a major building site! It’s just so excellent when the world goes to sleep.”

Part of her creative process involves what she refers to as USSR: Uninterrupted Silent Sustained Reading. “What’s valuable is being transported, creating a new vision, a new version, a myth,” she elaborates; in the case of “Equinox,” Funke found surprising inspiration in the old nursery rhyme “Hey Diddle Diddle.” Country and city cats, laughing dogs, and restless dinnerware populate what Funke calls her “ordinary domestic life,” but the cow here isn’t the moon-jumping bovine – it’s a metaphor for her muse.

“It’s a bit mystical, like inspiration – when it comes it’s subtle and cosy like a beneficent house trained cow,” she explains. All that’s left to do then, is welcome and make space for it. “When I’m starting something new I just take baby steps, just a small amount of time each day and sooner or later things find their direction. Also cooking up a big pot of something good is excellent to help transport me.”

For Liza Victoria, who records as Lisa/Liza, being asked to participate in the Looking Glass series provided some much-needed motivation in and of itself. “I have chronic illness, and last winter I had some episodes that were very difficult. As a result of that I was too weak to sing, I had writer’s block, and to be honest I hadn’t felt too comfortable picking up my guitar, because it was emotionally difficult to have to put it back down,” she remembers. “Being asked to just write one song moved me into a different space mentally. Once I wrote one, I wanted to write another. It was a nice exercise and if anyone is struggling with writing, maybe it can help them too, to just focus on writing one.”

Her contribution to the series, “Rose Pedals,” was the last in a “little chain of songs” she was then able to write in succession, and appropriately enough, it beautifully illustrates how mundane activities can teach us patience or remind us to pause – in her case, holding onto rituals like making tea and writing letters as little things that create connection when there isn’t much else to grasp. “I think I was particularly feeling alone with what I was working through physically then, and these mundane activities were ones that I owed a little ‘thank you’ to, for keeping me present and reminding me I wasn’t alone,” she says.

“A lot of times the way I write is very self-reflective and taking a look at a given moment, or dealing with a feeling that is in the air. I think it’s always helped me to process things by teaching myself and allowing myself to write in that way. The writing process is very fulfilling and exciting for me because often it’s like a way to unwind, and bring in some kind of new focus,” she continues. “Creating my own music has allowed me a lot of room to communicate and feel validated emotionally… it is a way for me to rest and pause and collect patience in my life. My attention is refocused and turned into something outward that I can share with others.”

Seeking such connections – and of course, embracing professional therapy – have been key to her well-being, she adds. “Working through feelings, sometimes it feels like a roller coaster a bit, in that part of the difficulty is the illusions we build for ourselves. The roller coaster can be scary; it can also be exciting, and thrilling, and a place to be with our friends, or just sharing an experience beside a stranger. There are plenty of things in the world today that are very hard to hold right now, and it’s okay to notice them. To be aware and to feel is human,” she offers. “Some of my personal favorite things to do to create calm have included being in nature, meditating with this app called Headspace, and having pets around – I have two cats. I don’t care for roller coasters.”

As they process a traumatic religious upbringing, Niecy Blues has found peace via their own sense of spirituality, a journey they document with Looking Glass single “Bones Become The Trees.” Though it was originally released on a compilation, the South Carolina-based composer, songwriter, vocalist, and instrumentalist says re-releasing the song for the series helped push their work to communities of listeners it hadn’t reached before. “Over the last month, I’ve been fortunate enough to have several conversations with people who connected to the song,” they say. “Hearing people’s experiences and extending empathy are the very things that really breathe more life into the work.”

Co-produced with Khari Lucas (aka Contour), the track’s heavy reverb adds airy, mystical vibes as Blues sings of renewal and rebirth, which the performer says they’ve explored “through ritual and intention. Even the smallest of things: filling a glass of water and slowly drinking it with my mind set on the intention of clarity of my words; expressing gratitude and centering my connection with the earth.” More specifically, nurturing plants has offered Blues a connection to their ancestors, who were sharecroppers.

“It’s a relationship. I have an altar. I think it’s very important to honor my ancestors,” they elaborate. “All of this comes into play in both my songwriting as well as performing. I feel a deep sense of connection to the deepest parts of myself as well as Spirit and those before me when I perform. My spirituality is deeply personal and I hold it dear. It anchors me.”

The mission of Mexican Summer’s Looking Glass series has been, since its inception, to provide a “portal for creative exploration and community to resonate through all versions of reality.” These recent additions encompass spirituality, ritual, and connection as we seek to bring balance to the months ahead, providing some invaluable guidance for moving through our uncertain future.

Follow Mexican Summer on Instagram for ongoing updates.

AF 2021 In Review: A Year Of Divorce, Heartache, And Grief

Carly Pearce // Photo Credit: Allister Ann

The world might have opened back up in 2021, but it was still a year branded with heartache, sorrow, and grief. Even if you didn’t endure the death of a loved one, you likely knew someone who did 一 or perhaps you wandered through some of the biggest records of the year and found yourself replaying your own miseries. Last year, loss in all its forms, including divorce, seemed to permeate every corner of existence.

Through a series of several mainstream releases, including Carly Pearce’s 29 and Adele’s 30, 2021 was the unequivocal year of divorce, heartbreak, and grief. An outpouring of collective pain, whether from death or severed friendships, wormed into songwriting in a remarkable, cathartic way. Artists sought as much solace as everyday folks, marking the second year of an ongoing pandemic with deep, indelible scars.

Divorce albums are not a new conceit. Historically, singer-songwriters have long written about very public breakups as a way to compartmentalize and cope. Many of music’s greatest divorce records, including Willie Nelson’s Phases and Stages, Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E, and Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, as well as more recent LPs from The Chicks (Gaslighter) and Miranda Lambert (The Weight of These Wings), served to reclaim the public narrative.

Tabloid headlines are nothing if not salacious in their details, frequently pitting one public figure against another in a way to sell magazines or get clicks. But behind those shiny veneers are living, breathing human beings simply trying to process their trauma. Yes, heartbreak is a form of trauma. In peeling back the emotional and psychological layers through storytelling, singers and songwriters find an agency they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Adele’s 30 was the most anticipated release of the year. Six years since her last studio record, 30 showcased the British performer making sense of her pain, flitting through the effects the divorce had on her son, their relationship in and out of the watery depths, and her desperate search to find herself once more. “To Be Loved” is the crown jewel of not only the record but her career so-far, as Adele gave her everything in a nearly-seven-minute epic best summed up with this refrain: “Let it be known that I tried.” Elsewhere, subtler yet still skin-scalding moments like “I Drink Wine” and “Strangers by Nature” permitted her to feel those emotions, raw and unfettered. While she’s felt anger in her divorce, 30 is not “an angry divorced woman” record; rather, it’s one of absolution from the past and the many tattered pages of resentment and misery.

Kelly Clarkson endured her own skirmish in the divorce spotlight, as well. A jovial person by nature, it seems fitting she funneled her heartache into a holiday album. When Christmas Comes Around… worked in much the same way as 30. The 12-song record dipped between jubilantly sashaying through her favorite classics, including “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and “Santa Baby,” and twirling through anguish like vibrantly colored ribbons. In the opening song, “Merry Christmas Baby,” Clarkson clued you into how she was feeling: “You can keep the charming lines/And you can keep your wandering hands and eyes.” Her thorny-laced lyrics coarse through the record, namely in two other originals “Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You)” and “Merry Christmas (To the One I Used to Know),” gloriously tinseled exorcisms. But in the end, as attested through standout “Blessed,” Clarkson emerged lighter and more self-possessed.

In the country world, Carly Pearce and Kacey Musgraves conjured up firestorms with 29 and star-crossed, respectively. Where Pearce soaked in modern-pressed traditional country, leaning upon fiddle, guitar, and other staple instruments, Musgraves stretched further into the pop world, using her much-acclaimed 2018 Golden Hour as a jumping off point. In both instances, the singer-songwriters expressed the sting of betrayal that’s now forever stamped into the emotional fabric of their lives. “So I ain’t gonna tell you everything he did/But I’ll tell you what he didn’t do: treat me right, put me first, be a man of his word/Stay home ’cause he wanted to,” sang Pearce. She seemingly flipped expectations here with “What He Didn’t Do” — but did plenty of tea-spilling later on with songs like “Next Girl” and “Should’ve Known Better.”

Conversely, Musgraves’ star-crossed unlocked a throbbing, emotional center through traditional instruments buried beneath magical production choices. The title cut is a cinematic conversation-piece, dazzling with distortion and synths, as if she’s escaping her heartbreak through a universe-defying expedition. “Let’s go back to the beginning,” she whispered on “good wife,” guitar peeking up like whack-a-mole. Staging the record as a chronological tale allowed the listener to experience the rush of burning love in those early days to the wildfire and the charred aftermath in almost real time.

My parents were never married, but when they split, it forever changed me. The night of their separation is among my earliest memories; I remember it like it was yesterday. My older sister Katrina held me tightly in her arms, tears streaming down my face and a throaty wail squirming from my lungs. I rarely cried so hard as a kid, and even now I can feel that pain rising into my chest. It’s something you can never forget. When I listen to 29, 30, star-crossed, and even When Christmas Comes Around… that memory flashes just as red and hot as it did then. In my adulthood, that moment certainly feels much different, but emotional memory can be a helluva drug.

Any sort of grief is physiological. It’s far more than simply reliving those flashing polaroids. It’s the ungodly physical pains that rip through flesh and bone like it’s happening to you all over again. And it’s not an exclusive experience to heartbreak and divorce.

You’re grieving when you feel your chest tighten and you can barely breathe. It’s not dissimilar to experiencing death. When Olivia Rodrigo is lamenting young heartbreak on Sour or Taylor Swift is recounting her own in the long-awaited release of “All Too Well” (10 Minute Version) or GAYLE is delivering the kiss-off to end all kiss-offs with smash single “abcdefu,” grief lies at their confectionary cores. Grief is grief. It doesn’t matter what the exterior looks like; the emotional and physical responses are the same.

Glam-pop newcomer Jake Wesley Rogers, taking cues from Bowie and Elton John in style and musical approach, dressed up themes of loss and moving on with his latest EP, Pluto. Songs like “Weddings and Funerals,” in which he muses that the small moments define our lives much more than the big ones, and “Middle of Love,” containing the apt line “my grandma died ’cause that’s what people do” bowl you over with their insight. The musical accomplishment of the tracks themselves give Rogers’ words even more gravitas, allowing for a universal clarity.

One-off releases, such as Lindsey Stirling’s “Lose You Now,” an electrifying plea to hold onto her father’s memory, pulled sorrow further into the conversation. Xenia Rubino’s “Did My Best” did the same, a moving centerpiece to the year, while Zara Larsson dissected her own heartbreak with Poster Girl, and Hayley Williams learned to let go on FLOWERS for VASES / descansos.

It’s hard to comprehend that 2021 is really over, now firmly in our rearview mirror. But as we take stock of yet another year lost to a pandemic, we can begin to reflect upon the common threads which connect our lives. Sadness flows much further than this feature will allow, also present in the work of countless other artists, including Joshua Bassett, Dashboard Confessional, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, James Arthur, H.E.R., and Julien Baker.

Perhaps through experiencing these musical masterpieces, we can understand the personal and universal significance of pain in songwriting and to our everyday lives. I know without a doubt that I’ve come closer to figuring out how continue on in a world so utterly destroyed by tragedy. I have plenty to learn still — but for now, I’ll listen, drink wine, and cry.

AF 2021 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums & Singles of The Year

If you went into 2021 with high expectations, you weren’t alone. Even if it was hard to feel optimistic this time last year, it certainly seemed as if things could get no worse. Live music did return, after all – though with the appearance of Delta, and now Omicron, the joyful noise comes with a caveat. After sixteen months of having to livestream shows (fun, but not the same) little could stop me from attending shows in person; wearing a mask as an extra precaution felt like no big deal, even if no one else was doing it. But luck (and vaccines) feel like the real reason I emerged unscathed from dozens of risky experiences, and with performances on the horizon canceled once again, maybe it’s wise to enter 2022 with slightly lower expectations.

There’s always recorded music, anyhow. Maybe the tumult of the year just has me personally feeling a bit unfocused, but it seems as though I barely scaled the mountain of this year’s musical offerings without getting a bit buried in the avalanche of releases – ones that had been pushed back, ones that were created in lockdown. I’ll be playing catch up well into the new year, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t gems I connected with almost immediately, and very deeply. And that’s what I’ve heard across the board, from those in the industry as well as casual music fans – is that our favorites this year stayed on heavy rotation, as we latched onto music that accurately reflected our moods, which evolved moment to moment and of course happened to be different for all of us at any given time. What does that mean for year-end lists? Audiofemme has always compiled an eclectic list, including favorites from each of our contributors without overall rank – consider any repeats to be the best of the best. But this year, the list seems even more diverse, meaning there’s a wealth of weird and wonderful music below to discover, dear reader. Thanks for sticking with us through another wild year.


  • Marianne White (Executive Director)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) PinkPantheress – to hell with it
      2) Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime
      3) Low – Hey What
      4) Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
      5) Julien Baker – Little Oblivions
      6) Dawn Richard – Second Line: An Electro Revival
      7) Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take
      8) aya – im hole
      9) Flock of Dimes – Head of Roses
      10) Tyler, the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Japanese Breakfast – “Be Sweet”
      2) Loraine James (feat. Eden Samara) – “Running Like That”
      3) Hand Habits – “More Than Love”
      4) Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”
      5) Julien Baker – “Faith Healer (Half Waif Remix)”

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Low – Hey What
      2) Tirzah – Colourgrade
      3) Nana Yamato – Before Sunrise
      4) Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine of Hell
      5) Jane Weaver – Flock
      6) Tonstartssbandht – Petunia
      7) Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
      8) Squirrel Flower – Planet (i)
      9) Veik – Surrounding Structures
      10) Cassandra Jenkins – An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
    • Top 10 Singles:
      1) Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”
      2) Special Interest – “All Tomorrow’s Carry”
      3) Squid – “G.S.K.”
      4) Julien Baker – “Bloodshot”
      5) Mandy, Indiana – “Bottle Episode”
      6) Remember Sports – “Pinky Ring”
      7) Cedric Noel – “Comuu”
      8) Gustaf – “Mine”
      9) June Jones – “Therapy”
      10) MAN ON MAN – “Stohner”

  • Mandy Brownholtz (Marketing Director)
    • Top 5 Albums (in no particular order):
      Spellling – The Turning Wheel
      King Woman – Celestial Blues
      Macy Rodman – Unbelievable Animals
      Marissa Nadler – The Path of the Clouds
      Kinlaw – The Tipping Scale
    • Top 3 Singles (in no particular order):
      Often – “Deep Sleep”
      Mannequin Pussy – “Control”
      Spice – “A Better Treatment”


  • Alexa Peters (Playing Seattle)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Wye Oak – Cut All The Wires: 2009-2011
      2) Dori Freeman – Ten Thousand Roses
      3) Isaiah Rashad – The House Is Burning
      4) Fawn Wood – Kåkike
      5) Carmen Q. Rothwell – Don’t Get Comfy / Nowhere
    • Honorable Mention: Mike Gebhart – Co-Pilot 
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Doja Cat (feat. SZA) – “Kiss Me More”
      2) Mitski – “Working for the Knife”
      3) DoNormaal – “Baby May”

  • Cat Woods (Playing Melbourne)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Deap Vally – Marriage
      2) Mod Con – Modern Condition
      3) Laura Stevenson – Laura Stevenson
      4) Joan As Police Woman – The Solution is Restless
      5) Black Country, New Road – For the first time
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Black Country, New Road – “Sunglasses”
      2) Lana Del Rey – “Dealer”
      3) jennylee – “Tickles”

  • Liz Ohanesian (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Hackedepicciotto — The Silver Threshold
      2) Saint Etienne — I’ve Been Trying to Tell You
      3) L’impératrice — Take Tsubo
      4) Pearl and the Oysters— Flowerland
      5) Nuovo Testamento — New Earth
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Midnight Magic – “Beam Me Up” 
      2) Jessie Ware – “Please”
      3) Gabriels – “Love and Hate in a Different Time (Kerri Chandler Remix)”  

  • Gillian G. Gaar (Musique Boutique)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Dolphin Midwives — Body of Water
      2) Sarah McQuaid — The St. Buryan Sessions
      3) Low — Hey What 
      4) Witch Camp — I’ve Forgotten Now Who I Used to Be 
      5) Full Bush — Movie Night
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Maggie Herron — “Sweet Lullaby”
      2) Sleater-Kinney — “High in the Grass”
      3) ONETWOTHREE — “Give Paw” 

  • Jason Scott (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Jetty Bones – Push Back
      2) M.A.G.S. – Say Things That Matter
      3) Lyndsay Ellyn – Queen of Nothing
      4) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      5) Christian Lopez – The Other Side
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Hayes Carll – “Help Me Remember”
      2) Jake Wesley Rogers – “Middle of Love”
      3) Adele – “To Be Loved”
      4) Carly Pearce – “What He Didn’t Do”
      5) Kacey Musgraves – “what doesn’t kill me”

  • Michelle Rose (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Alex Orange Drink – Everything Is Broken, Maybe That’s O​.​K.
      2) Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever
      3) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      4) Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World
      5) Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Blonder – “Ice Cream Girl” 
      2) Mitski – “The Only Heartbreaker”
      3) Kristiane – “Better On Your Own”  

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Polo G – Hall of Fame
      2) Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud – The Plugs I Met 2
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Something For Thee Hotties
      4) Pooh Shiesty – Shiesty Sessions
      5) blackbear – misery lake
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud – “Thanksgiving”
      2) Lil Nas X (feat. Jack Harlow)  – “INDUSTRY BABY”
      3) 24kGoldn (feat. Future) – “Company”

  • Jamila Aboushaca (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      2) Snoh Aalegra – Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies 
      3) Lil Nas X – Montero
      4) Darkside – Spiral
      5) Blu DeTiger – How Did We Get Here EP
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Kaytranada (feat. H.E.R.) – “Intimidated”
      2) Kacey Musgraves – “simple times”
      3) Snoh Aalegra – “In Your Eyes”

  • Sophia Vaccaro (Playing the Bay)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Aly & AJ – A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun
      2) Julia Wolf – Girls in Purgatory (Full Moon Edition)
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Something For Thee Hotties
      4) Lil Mariko – Lil Mariko
      5) Destroy Boys – Open Mouth, Open Heart
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) daine – “dainecore”
      2) Julia Wolf – “Villain”
      3) Doja Cat – “Need To Know”

  • Sam Weisenthal (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take
      2) Katy Kirby – Cool Dry Place
      3) Mega Bog – Life, and Another
      4) Ada Lea – one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden
      5) Olivia Kaplan – Tonight Turns to Nothing
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Charlotte Cornfield – “Drunk For You” 
      2) Dora Jar – “Multiply”
      3) Joe Taylor Sutkowski, Dirt Buyer – “What Luck, Goodbye”  

  • Sara Barron (Playing Detroit)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) PinkPantheress – to hell with it
      2) Summer Walker – Still Over It
      3) Erika de Casier – Sensational
      4) Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
      5) Adele – 30
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Lana Del Rey – “Dealer”
      2) Liv.e – “Bout It”
      3) SZA – “I Hate U”

  • Eleanor Forrest (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
      2) CL – ALPHA
      3) My Life As Ali Thomas – Peppermint Town
      4) Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
      5) Remember Sports – Like a Stone
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) FKA twigs (feat. Central Cee) – “Measure of a Man”
      2) Sabriel – “Pulse”
      3) Lexie Liu – “有吗炒面 ALGTR”

How Jetty Bones’ ‘Push Back’ Saved My Life In 2021

Photo Credit: Lindsey Byrnes

Trigger Warning: This editorial contains graphic discussions about suicide and mental health

Jetty Bones pushes the literal boundaries of her work on latest album Push Back, swapping out indie/rock singer/songwriter sensibilities for dazzling dance-centered pop music. Beneath those shimmering, warm, and inviting musical layers, Jetty Bones (real name Kelc Galluzzo) lays her heart and soul bare with regard to her own ongoing journey with depression and suicide. The singer-songwriter has been pretty honest about her experiences online, but these eleven songs showcase, with a scalpel’s merciless edge, a slow mental unraveling and eventual blow-out. It’s one I know all too well.

On “Dolly,” Jetty Bones sings, “Oh, I often want to off myself, but I don’t quite wanna die,” a prickly feeling that’s lingered in my brain since suicidal ideation first slipped around my throat in the summer of 2003. Nothing in particular triggered suffocating thoughts of death; they were just there. One night, I gobbled a whole bottle of Tylenol, and the only thing I achieved was a belly full of black bile. I puked for 24 hours straight and told my mom it was nothing but a stomach bug.

That was the first of many suicide attempts in my life. I’ve danced through various stages of darkness ever since, often slithering through existence like a slug on the sidewalk. In my senior year of college, I landed in the hospital and spent a few days in a psych ward 一 and a year later, I came this close to shuffling off this mortal coil. What I remember most about that dreary February night is stumbling blindly down my block in a panic, the Tylenol flooding my brain and clogging my senses; my vision grew blurry, and my head swam, seemingly crashing against reality like waves on a rock-laced coastline. Remorse bubbled up on my skin like pus-filled blisters, as what I’d attempted to do came into focus with the dissipation of the pills sloshing in my belly. I plopped myself down on the curb and grabbed my stomach.

The night ran cool, even the heat from the pavement was dulling into a simmer. The street lamps cast an intoxicating amber in pools around my feet, as my neck fell into a loose, ribbon-y arc. My gaze fell into the crevices underneath the rubber soles of my converse. I didn’t think I had anything left to give, but somehow, I found my body seemingly moments later tumbling headfirst into my futon. My head spiraled for the next 18 hours or so, the daze never fully wearing off until a week later. I’d never been more terrified to die than I was in those moments.

Twelve years later, it feels both like it happened just yesterday and in another lifetime. I never tried to kill myself again after that, yet I still struggle daily with wanting to kill myself but not quite wanting to die. When I assess 2021, I return to Push Back as the only one record that seems to capture the tragedy I feel forced to play and the beauty in rediscovering what it means to be fully alive and breathing.

With the record’s opening lyric, decorated inside a guitar-synth patchwork in “Waking Up Crying,” Galluzzo asks a simple question: “Can we talk about your heart please?” She goes on to sympathize with the listener, expressing how “damn exhausting” it must be to move through the world and feel like such a burden to everyone. Later, “Waking Up Exhausted” picks up the wayward shards and glues them back together. But her determination to be okay again is all for naught; some days, she doesn’t even have the energy to tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen for coffee. “I think I might be sick,” she mumbles.

Galluzzo positions Push Back as a hyper-electric, wholly-personal case study in mental health, but moments like “Nothing” and “That’s All” oscillate away from themes of anxiety and depression to examine love and heartbreak, too. Even so, there are lyrics in both these songs, for example, that read as subtle cues to her cracking headspace. “I don’t know if you want me to run/Or if I should be fight-fight-fighting for my life,” she renders in the former. In the latter, she spits over a slinky beat, “I don’t wanna be another let down on that list for you/Do it like you gotta do when times are tough/And it’s killing me, you’re feeling like you’re not enough.”

That’s the thing about mental health. It’s insidious and affects your relationships and friends whether you realize it or not. Most often, you don’t know it’s happening until those tenuous ties fray and shred and fall away from your life completely. Then, you come crashing into a song like “Taking Up Space,” in which Galluzzo supposes she should “get out of the way” to save those around her. “The pulling threads of woes we weave are/ Tangled up intricately/With the passive placement of feelings/That leaves us with no room to breathe,” she reflects in the bridge.

“No room to breathe” stings my ears even now. There is no room to breathe when you’re depressed and anxious. The world feels suffocating and much smaller than it really is. So, you turn to any manner of vices – wine perhaps, or you pick up smoking again – and you gaze out over the “Ravine,” as imagined by Galluzzo in one of the album’s most moving moments. “And shameful as it is to admit/I’m in an existential crisis/But I’ll be fine, just like I always am,” she sings, gazing up off the bathroom floor. The dread and anxiety and depression has clashed inside her brain and thrashes until everything collapses into dust, the world distorts, and you have no other way to go but further down. You spiral into an alcohol-induced stupor, and your life doesn’t seem like your life anymore.

As evidenced with “Bad Time,” a collaboration with Eric Egan, one’s coping mechanism can be sardonic humor. Galluzzo diffuses her existential crisis with 100-second reprieve, dishing up cheekiness (“There’s a demon in my heart, and I named her Linda”) while supplying some sage wisdom. “Sorry you caught me at a bad time/See, I thought tonight I might be dying/Nobody told me you could get up and just try again,” she caterwauls. “I’m not trying to be anxious/But I wish for once you would believe that/I’m not afraid of you, honey/I’m just afraid of everything.”

Galluzzo briskly swerves back into brightly package-wrapped seriousness with “Dolly,” another moment that pricks your skin with syrupy deception. Its country framework is jolly, a Friday night hoedown at the local dance hall, distracting you from the lyrics that hint at inner turmoil that’s now bloomed into an inextinguishable wildfire. “I’ve been drowning in the depths, so far gone and so dark/That nobody can save me,” she laments, later admitting that she’s “better off dead or living on the lam.”

There’s one stanza that sums up many things for me:

“I don’t mean to sound impatient
Or hollow and insincere
But I’ve got postcards in my kitchen saying, ‘l wish you were here’
I’m stubborn and ungrateful with the people in my life
Oh, I often want to off myself, but I don’t quite wanna die”

That brings things full circle. “Oh, I often want to off myself, but I don’t quite wanna die” reads as much as a eulogy as it does a dare to live again. This past year, I’ve felt this lyric more than any other. It’s hard to drag yourself out of bed when the pressures of not only the modern world but your own mind press down upon your shoulder blades. The days I spent wallowing in bed and postponing deadlines just so I could breathe again feel like too many to count.

With its haunting vocal structure and palpitating guitar line, operating almost heart-like, “Bug Life” bowls right over you and challenges what I even thought about dying. It’s the finale to end all other finales. “You were a wreck, and they wouldn’t let you in/‘Cause you were a dirty mess/And they don’t want it on their carpet,” she describes the mental tug-of-war. “So you felt like a bug, that everyone wanted to squish/But you wouldn’t give this up/No, you won’t give this up.”

But she did almost give it up. In exchange for a traditional bridge, Galluzzo supplies real voicemails loved ones left her, as well as one she herself left. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry,” she can be heard, her voice cracking with emotion. In four minutes, “Bug Life” manages to encompass one’s entire existence and the burning out, when you reach the threshold and see yourself never turning back. I came close to never turning back, but I did. And she did. And for that I’m forever thankful.

Earlier this year, I had the joy to speak with Galluzzo about the record’s inception and how putting “Bug Life,” specifically, out into the world is not “an act of bravery or me trying to be inspirational by any means,” she said. “It’s me wanting to show people where I am actually coming from—to help eliminate the idea that I have it all figured out. I’m still human and dealing with this. Depression and suicidal thoughts are part of the mental health issues that I’ll probably deal with for the rest of my life. I shouldn’t be on a pedestal for my recovery.”

And she’s absolutely right. It’s not an act of bravery to share her story; it’s just a piece to the puzzle of who she is. I’ve chosen to be transparent in my journey, as well, with the hope that a queer kid in middle America can see and know they are not alone in their feelings. As cliché as it sounds, things really do get better. Jetty Bones’ Push Back is testament to that.

Despite how bad things can get, and they were awful this year, I am so glad I stayed.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to

Follow Jetty Bones on Twitter and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Five Can’t-Miss 2021 Albums from the Eclectic New Zealand Music Scene

Kendall Elise // Photo Credit: Kristin Cofer

Australian music press and fans often look to the US and UK when seeking new sounds. It is to our detriment though, when so many diverse and divinely talented musicians and producers are emerging from the North and South Islands of New Zealand (Aotearoa in Maori).

From the nufolk, gothic, country-tinged ballads of Kendall Elise to the fresh, ambient pop of French For Rabbits, the heartbreakingly soulful Hollie Smith or the dark, strange and compelling Proteins of Magic and OV PAIN, there’s every reason to indulge in a deep dive into New Zealand’s 2021 album releases. Do yourself a favour, even, and book a trip. The epic, abundant natural beauty of the landscape and its diversity might make sense of the enormous variation in art and artists from this Pacific destination.

The following list is but a drop in the ocean of New Zealand’s music scene; in the coming year, readers can look forward to many more features on New Zealand artists in Audiofemme’s Playing Melbourne column. Stay tuned!

Kendall Elise – Let The Night In

Kendall Elise, from Papakura in Auckland, released the darkly soulful country album Let The Night In in August. Her sophomore effort is rich with hauntingly romantic, gorgeously spare ballads. “I Want” is proof Elise can’t neatly be classified as pure country. It’s a crooner, wrapped up in a plaintive, weeping guitar embrace that speaks of open windows and a thundering storm approaching.

She admits she wears her jeans too tight and likes her music too loud on a rip-roaring cover of Suzie Quatro’s “Your Mamma Won’t Like Me;” furious, barnstorming guitar drives the message home with grit. There’s a whisper of traditional English folk ballad “Greensleeves” in the guitar-based melody  and melancholy harmonies on “A Kingdom.”

After gaining attention with her self-produced EP I Didn’t Stand A Chance in 2017, she drew enough crowdfunded support to release her debut album Red Earth in 2019. Let The Night In was recorded in lieu of her COVID-cancelled 2020 Europe tour – it’s sparing, stormy, sultry and stunning across all 10 tracks.

French For Rabbits – The Overflow

Salty air, sparkling ocean waves, the brightness of sun glinting off mossy rocks – these refreshing sensations are easily evoked by Poneke, Wellington band French For Rabbits on their track “The Overflow.” It can be found on their third album of the same name, released in November.

Brooke Singer adds vocal gilt to the delicate instrumentals and dreamy electropop of guitarist John Fitzgerald, drummer Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa, and multi-instrumentalists Ben Lemi and Penelope Esplin. While their past albums – 2017’s The Weight of Melted Snow and 2014’s Spirits – have rooted the mood in more solemn, sad territory, there’s a languid sweetness, a freshness, to the ten tracks showcased here.

Hollie Smith – Coming In From The Dark

Hollie Smith released her fourth solo album in October, and Coming In From The Dark more than justifies her four-decade strong career. The album showcases high-caliber collaborations, including the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (which features on the dramatic, full-throated title track), Sol3 Mio (on theatrical pop-operetta “You”) and Raiza Biza (on the slow burn of trippin’ R&B slow-trap “What About”).

Ultimately, the full-body feels are delivered simply by Smith’s sensational vocals. She’s an established artist in New Zealand who began singing in earnest as a teenager in local jazz outfits in Auckland. She went on to record and tour internationally with her father, an expert in Celtic music, before taking the solo path from her Wellington base in the 2000s. Her 2007 debut album Long Player sold double-platinum and scooped a bunch of New Zealand Music Awards. She followed it up with Humour and the Misfortune of Others in 2010 and her third album Water or Gold in 2016, as well as two collaborative albums: Band of Brothers Vol. 1 with Mara TK and Peace of Mind with Anika Moa and Boh Runga. Why hasn’t Australia tried to claim her yet? Maybe we tried and failed. Our loss; Smith is never forgotten once you’ve heard her sing.

Proteins of Magic – Proteins of Magic

How do you describe the unusual, totally captivating strangeness of Kelly Sherrod and Proteins of Magic? Just like that, I suppose. It’s a bizarre, wonderful pagan spell that’s conjured in her cross-border project that sees her living and working between her homes in Auckland and Nashville.

There’s a Laurie Anderson vibe to Sherrod’s operatic, gothic delivery over esoteric electronica on her debut self-titled album, released in August. If you can imagine, it capably combines elements of Enya’s dramatic, atmospheric “Orinoco Flow” and the odd sound-and-voice nightmare vision of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” with the hyperreal, disjointed techno-cool of Miss Kittin & The Hacker’s “Frank Sinatra.” But then, “The Book” is a piano-led, ghostly lament that is absolutely, heart-rendingly beautiful, defying comparisons. In November, Proteins of Magic released stand-alone single “Willow,” a multi-layered, witchy brew of synths, bouncy basslines and punchy digital drums.

Sherrod’s musical debut was as frontwoman for Punches in 2003, followed by playing bass for Dimmer before she moved to Nashville in 2009, painting and recording in her home studio when she wasn’t touring with the likes of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Her schedule is busy with festivals in New Zealand in early 2022, and seems ample reason for organising a January roadtrip via Auckland.

OV PAIN – The Churning Blue of Noon

Renee Barrance and Tim Player are Dunedin-originated, Melbourne-based OV PAIN. Their second album The Churning Blue of Noon is a more eclectic, experimental beast than their debut self-titled album of 2017. The duo had been nourished by a diet of drone, free jazz and instrumental work, and combined with the apocalyptic global pandemic scenario, their creative vision became murky with gothic, end-of-times moodiness. The August release was admittedly recorded in Melbourne, the duo’s second home.

Player is the Bela Lugosi-esque narrator on “Ritual In The Dark Part 1,” over a hollow-hearted digital organ. Warped, distorted synth fills the atmosphere, and from a ghostly parallel universe, Barrance’s dystopic vocals croon and hum on “Excess and Expenditure.” The track epitomises the feel of the whole album, a dark masterpiece.