ONLY NOISE: Playlist for a Schoolgirl Crush

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Erin Lyndal Martin shares a selection of songs that bring back the rush of a schoolgirl crush.

No matter how old you get, there’s something that stays dreamy about teenaged crushes. I call these my schoolgirl crushes, remembering the flush of excitement every time my crush asked to borrow a pencil. As we get older, schoolgirl crushes seem so much more innocent. We never worried about the bad things our crushes had done or why they’d been divorced twice or if their time management skills were lacking. We just wanted to lie on our beds and listen to songs that reminded us of their dimples.

These songs go back to those dreamy crushes. They all have an element of escape to them — slipping away from parents, from responsibility, from a place that holds you back, from anything that isn’t basking in your lover’s presence.

“The Ghost In You” by The Psychedelic Furs (Mirror Moves)
Formed in 1977, the Psychedelic Furs have explored a number of rock genres, including post-punk and New Wave.

“Ghost In You” could well be the theme song of this whole collection. “Inside you the time moves/She don’t fade,” Richard Butler sings, his thick British accent making the song all the more charming. And he’s right. When I remember my high school crush, the boy with the beautiful dimples, I remember him not as a teenager but as a man, the two of us always on the brink of a great romance.

“ocean eyes” by Billie Eilish (don’t smile at me)
Billie Eilish is a 17 year-old singer/model/dancer from Los Angeles.

The power in this song is its slow, sensual flow. Listening to it brings back how mind-blowing it was when making out was new, when every breath on your neck made you tremble on the brink of a new world. Eilish’s soprano mimics the intoxication of touching someone for the first time.

“Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl” by Broken Social Scene (You Forgot It In People)
Broken Social Scene is a Canadian musical collective comprised of members of other bands, mostly based in Toronto.

This song balances innocence and obsession in a perfectly winsome way. Emily Haines’s vocals are breathless, smeared slightly with distortion, and stay quiet even as the song intensifies. Every lyric in the song is repeated several times, building up to a single line (“Park that car, drop that phone, sleep on the floor, dream about me”) being repeated 13 times. Meanwhile, the instrumentation builds from sparse banjo strummed to an ecstatic violin and percussion. While the song is more about nostalgia than love, its giddy take on fixation speaks to the 17 year-old girl in all of us.

“I Know Places” by Lykke Li (Wounded Rhymes)
Lykke Li is a Swedish singer, songwriter, and model who blends folk and electropop.

This is a song for the schoolgirl crushes I feel as an adult. For the rush of first getting intimate with someone and wanting only to be together, to ignore the world. “The high won’t fade here, babe,” she promises. Ambiguity is part of why the song is so captivating. Maybe they’re seeking literal places to escape, or maybe getting intoxicated on one another in bed, or off in a forest or on a beach.

“Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run)
Bruce Springsteen is a legendary singer-songwriter from New Jersey known for writing about working class struggles.

“Thunder Road” has to be a contender for one of the best songs ever written, and it’s all in the incredible imagery, the swell of the music, and even in the way Springsteen mumbles divine lyrics. However old you are, whatever your situation was growing up, he brings to life the glory of a brief escape from town where Mary’s past lovers haunt her from “the skeleton frames of burnt-out Chevrolets,” her graduation gown long tossed to these boys. The narrator sings about putting out to win from a town full of losers, and you get the sense there’s really no hope of it, but in the moment, you believe in that love, and any young love that’s made it seem possible to escape the limitations of your current life.

“XO” by Beyoncé (Beyoncé)
Beyoncé Knowles is one of the most acclaimed singers and performers of the day, and was ranked most powerful female in entertainment by Forbes in 2015 and 2017.

“XO” manages to be both intimate and urgent, full of both love and lust. The song takes place in a crowded room where the lights will be turned out soon. The driving beat reinforces the urgency of finding each other in the impending darkness, but the soaring chorus and backing vocals create atmosphere. The lights going out take on different meanings, mostly with Beyoncé begging “baby love me lights out.” The immediacy of the song brings back the thirsty makeout sessions of adolescence, all the more urgent because a curfew was usually involved.

“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths (The Queen is Dead)
The Smiths are a Britpop band known for melodramatic but highly melodic songs.

For me, and for many of my friends, this song inspires the same feeling in us now as when we were 16 and first listening to it. The synthesizers swirl like ribbons, and lead singer Morrissey pouts in his falsetto, and it’s so triumphant. Like “Thunder Road,” this song celebrates an escape from real life (“Take me out tonight/I need to see people and I need to see light”) and the magic of finding escape velocity with a lover. So much magic that it becomes romantic to think about dying in a crash with a ten-ton truck. That’s some seriously potent escapism.

“All Through the Night” by Cyndi Lauper (She’s So Unusual)
Cyndi Lauper is best known as a pop singer who rose to fame in the 1980’s.

Originally a folksy song by Jules Shear, Cyndi Lauper’s twinkly synthesizer and sweetly pouting voice made it her own song. She includes details from the real world, like stray cats crying, but the real world is irrelevant. “We have no past/We won’t reach back,” she sings in the chorus as the music swells. “Keep with me forward all through the night,” she sings, another way of saying “We’re in this together. It’s only us now.”

NEWS ROUNDUP: Grimes is (Sort of) Back, RBMA Announce 2019 Shows, and MORE

Grimes photo by Eli Russell Linnetz

So, About Grimes…

Where to begin? Claire Boucher (who turned 31 on Sunday and now prefers to be addressed as the italicized, lowercase letter ‘c‘) gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal; between the very odd conversation and her recent Instagram posts, it seems like she’ll be appearing in our News Roundups for a while, so buckle up.

First of all, she’s officially announced a new Grimes record. It’s called Miss_Anthropocene, and revolves around the concept of  the “anthropomorphic goddess of climate change,” according to her own Insta post. She describes the character thusly: “A psychedelic, space-dwelling demon/ beauty-Queen who relishes the end of the world. She’s composed of Ivory and Oil” and continues, “Each song will be a different embodiment of human extinction as depicted through a Pop star Demonology. The first song ‘we appreciate power’, introduced the pro-AI-propaganda girl group who embody our potential enslavement/destruction at the hands of Artificial General intelligence.”

In the same post, she also hinted that there might be an EP coming soon as well, which would ostensibly contain some of the stand-alone stuff she’s been working on while putting the LP together, like “Pretty Dark.”

On to the interview, which is behind a paywall I can’t afford and don’t want to pay to a conservative pub, so bear with me. c wants to “kill off” Grimes in a “public execution” because she feels limited by the branding she created back in 2009; her vision of herself as an artist is much more expansive, necessitating a Game of Thrones-esque book that will create a “lore” around her art and music. “It’s super, super pretentious,” she notes.

Reiterating her Instagram post, she says that she aims to make climate change “fun” with the new record, feeling that people ignore it largely because it makes them sad. Her solution to this dilemma is a series of “apocalyptic PSAs” in which she sits nude at a Last Supper-style dining table eating species on the brink of extinction, like a big bloody elephant head. You know, fun.

The album features an epic love ballad called “So Heavy I Fell Through The Earth” which Grimes says was inspired by the Assassin’s Creed movie trailer rather than her relationship with Elon Musk, whom she all but refused to talk about. She did say she “loves him” but was “simply unprepared” for the attention/criticism that dating him has brought her. WSJ did quote an email Musk sent to them about Grimes, saying, “I love c’s wild fae artistic creativity and hyper intense work ethic.”

Grimes tweeted that she was mostly pleased with the interview, but that generally she hates doing them because “it’s like fighting a battle with a fake version of urself to see who the public believes more.”

Red Bull’s NYC Music Academy Lineup is Here

Taking place across NYC throughout May every year, Red Bull Music Academy has become one of our favorite non-festivals – the lineup is always diverse and well-curated, with an eye on slightly more obscure avant-garde acts playing off-the-beaten path venues. Now in its 16th year, the programming for 2019 has been announced, and there’s a lot to be excited about.

For one thing, RBMA will host breakout Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía for her first live appearances stateside. Her stunning 2018 album El Mal Querer flips Flamenco on its head, and the elaborate visuals that characterized her gorgeous visuals will likely make their way into the two performances scheduled for the newly-reopened Webster Hall.

Also performing over two nights, FKA Twigs returns to NYC for her first shows here since 2015, when Red Bull staged her vogue-opera Congregata in an abandoned hangar. This time, she’ll take over the Park Avenue Armory’s similarly cavernous drill hall. She hasn’t released new music in a while, so we’re curious to see what form these shows will take.

Four more women will bring immersive shows to the fest: Harlem’s own Teyana Taylor presents House of Petunia, a “spectacular audio-visual experience spearheaded by her all-female production company, The Aunties, featuring provocative stage design and mesmerizing choreography from a world-class team of dancers;” Tierra Whack headlines New York for the first time at the iconic Rainbow Room with “quirky and surreal stage design” that mirrors her surreal “Whack World” project; composer and sound artist Holly Herndon premieres the live iteration of her forthcoming album PROTO, “incorporating a fluid ensemble of eight vocalists, Spawn (a nascent machine intelligence), machine learning specialists, choreographers, and visual artists;” and Moor Mother weaves sound and history together with a “large-scale performance” she’s curated alongside an installation by Black Quantum Futurism, both of which are based on the race riots that engulfed America in the “Red Summer” of 1919.

More from RBMA’s press release:

Additional Red Bull Music Festival New York shows include: Rapper/producer JPEGMAFIA, who will showcase his gritty and abrasive beats with a dynamic live show in-the-round; NYC’s Onyx Collective bringing together their notable friends from the worlds of jazz, hip-hop, soul, and R&B for a free and unreplicable performance of intense, genre-expanding jazz at one of New York City’s beautiful parks; and the festival closes with Nyege Nyege Night featuring a propulsive and bass-heavy set from Ugandan DJKampire who – after laying the bedrock for the creation of safe party spaces for women and the LGBTQ+ community at home – will  make her US debut, co-headlining with rising singeli duo MCZO & Duke.

Tickets are sold for individual events and can be purchased here.

That New New

Speaking of Red Bull, break out that Hennessy – it’s Jenny Lewis Day, bitches.

Fresh off her Tim Presley collab DRINKS’ sophomore LP and tour, Cate Le Bon has announced her next solo album, Reward, out May 24 via Mexican Summer, with lead single “Daylight Matters.”

Nearly fifteen years after the release of their collaborative EP In The Reins, Calexico and Iron & Wine have reunited to record a full-length, Years to Burn. “Father Mountain” is the first single from the LP, out June 14 via City Slang.

Damien Jurado shared a new song from his stripped-down acoustic record In The Shape of a Storm, out April 12.

Juan Wauters has released the first single from Introducing Juan Pablo, out May 31. “Letter” was written in 2015; the record as a whole is something of a companion piece/prequel to his recently released La Onda de Juan Pablo LP.

Surprising no one, there’s a second volume to Broken Social Scene’s recent Let’s Try the After Vol. 1 EP on the way. Vol. 2 is out April 12 and its first single is “Can’t Find My Heart.”

Papercuts released a new three song EP, Kathleen Says, this week.

Lizzo and Missy Elliott have collaborated on a track, so music is basically over. Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You is out April 19.

Building on the momentum of recent single “Not What I Thought,” Somalia-born, Toronto-based vocalist Amaal brings the heat with another scorcher, “Coming & Going.”

Czarface, a hip-hop and comics collective featuring Inspectah Deck, has just released a collab LP with old Wu-Tang buddy Ghostface Killah. Czarface Meets Ghostface is out now, and so is this rad video for “Powers and Stuff,” seen from the POV of a very good boy.

Obliques are back with their first single since 2017’s “Instant Pleasure.”

Reptaliens’ sophomore LP VALIS arrives on April 26 – on cassette and limited edition pink vinyl. Watch the video for “Venetian Blinds” below.

Kero Kero Bonito released a video for “Swimming,” from last year’s Time ‘n’ Place.

Fat White Family return with a new video directed by Roisin Murphy. “Tastes Good With The Money” will appear on their third studio album, Serfs Up!, out April 19.

Plague Vendor unleash their new John Congleton-produced Epitaph Records LP By Night on June 7, and have shared a rowdy video for the raucous first track “New Comedown.”

Ibibio Sound Machine have a new album, Doko Mien, out today, and have shared a video for “Wanna Come Down.”

The latest video from Colombian breakout “Artist on the Rise” Elsa y Elmar is a journey, fam – and “Ojos Noche” is the Spanish-language alt-country bop you didn’t know you needed. Her next LP Eres Diamante arrives May 17.

Analogue special effects make for some gorgeous visuals in the dreamy new single from Heather Woods Broderick, who releases her newest album Invitation April 19. She’ll open for longtime collaborator and bandmate Sharon Van Etten at Webster Hall May 4.

Following the official announcement of her April 5 release Titanic Rising (and a video for “Everyday“) Weyes Blood shares a video for the album’s next single, “Movies.”

Tame Impala has released a new stand-alone single, “Patience,” to promote a headlining Coachella spot, numerous other festival appearances, and Saturday Night Live debut on March 30.

Honeyblood, now the solo project of Stina Tweeddale, releases their third LP In Plain Sight May 24, and have released a lyric video for “Glimmer.”

Here’s a ripper from new Queens-based band WIVES, who drop a two-part seven inch on City Slang in May.

Wes Miles unironically sings “Got the crew back together/Feels like it’s been forever” on “Bad To Worse,” the first song from Ra Ra Riot since the 2016 release of the LP Need Your Light; it’s produced and co-written by Discovery cohort Rostam Batmanglij.

End Notes

  • Iconic surf guitarist Dick Dale, best known as the man behind “Miserlou,” passed away on Saturday at the age of 81.
  • Myspace deleted your shit.
  • Did you know that Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst hosts a jazz night at Los Angeles club The Black Rabbit Rose every Thursday? Lady Gaga does – she showed up last week to perform some Frank Sinatra covers.
  • San Francisco’s Outside Lands have announced the semi-retired Paul Simon as a headliner and reveal the rest of the lineup on Tuesday.
  • Woodstock 50 has official released their previously leaked lineup.
  • The Lollapalooza lineup has been announced; we’d save you a click thru and tell you who’s playing except that it’s literally the same bands playing every other festival, but in Chicago.
  • Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner will bring a topsy-turvy version of Berlin event PEOPLE called 37d03d (get it? good, because it’s annoying to type) to Red Hook’s Pioneer Works; it’s a five-day residency featuring experimental-ish musicians like Vernon, Dessner, Sinkane, Boys Noize, Greg Fox, Shahzad Ismaily, and others, culminating in two performances on May 3 and 4.
  • The David Lynch Foundation, which brings transcendental meditation to sufferers of PTSD, have also announced a lineup for their benefit showcase on May 17 and 18 at Brooklyn Steel, featuring Wye Oak, Garbage, Phoebe Bridgers, Nancy Whang of LCD Soundsystem, and more.
  • Presumably riding high on Pepsi’s Super Bowl endorsement, Cardi B has filed paperwork to trademark “Okurrr.”
  • In other Cardi B news, she’s been announced as part of the ensemble cast for Hustlers, a movie about vengeful strippers based on this New York Times article.
  • The Wyld Stallyns have announced a most excellent reunion.
  • Madlib squashed some rumors that his collab EP with the late Mac Miller (dubbed “Maclib”) will see ever the light of day.
  • Questlove is teaming up with SF-based vegetarian “meat” purveyor Impossible Burger to created a Questlove Cheesteak sold at sports stadiums nationwide.
  • Democratic Hot but actually pretty centrist presidential candidate hopeful Beto O’Rourke has unveiled a unique platform: reuniting the Mars Volta.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Alternative Beef, Cancel Chris Brown, and MORE

Courtney Love & Kathleen Hanna have had ongoing beef since the mid ’90s.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Rekindling a decades old beef, Courtney Love had some choice words for Kathleen Hanna following the news that the latter’s riot grrl act Bikini Kill would play a handful of reunion shows in LA and NYC this spring. In the comment thread of a Bust Magazine Instagram post lamenting the shows’ record sell-out times, Love referred to Bikini Kill as “the biggest hoax in rock and roll,” later adding: “Two of the band total amateurs. Hanna is a good hype man but her persona is such a diy nonsense dilettante. A big idea they cannot convey, because they suck.” Hanna has not responded and Love has since deleted the comments, but her words reminded everyone that these two feminist icons haven’t seen eye to eye since Lollapalooza ’95, when a backstage altercation ended any hope of them uniting to crush the patriarchy. We have a sneaking suspicion that Love’s dislike of Hanna is rooted in jealousy over Hanna’s friendship with Love’s late husband Kurt Cobain (Hanna is credited with inspiring the title of Nirvana’s breakout single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”). We’re taking Hanna’s side on this one; Love’s comments were petty and we’re impressed Hanna didn’t take the bait.

The saga between Grimes and Azaelia Banks deepens! Back in August, Banks visited Grimes at the home of Grimes’ then-boyfriend, tech mogul Elon Musk. The two musicians were supposed to collaborate on a single, but in a series of social media posts, Banks described being trapped in the home as Musk did damage control over a tweet where he claimed he planned to take Tesla private at $420 a share. Banks says that Musk was on acid at the time, and postulated that he and Grimes had invited her to Los Angeles for a potential threesome. But because the Securities Exchange Commission sued Musk over the tweet, texts between Grimes and Banks from that time period have been subpoenaed, and Banks posted some of the exchange on Instagram; the posts were deleted, but not before someone grabbed screenshots that Jezebel was all too happy to repost (and we are all too happy to recommend you go and read immediately). We can’t get down with either going for the low-hanging fruit of insulting one anothers’ appearances, but have to name Azealia Banks the winner of this spat. Maybe it’s all the practice she’s had talking shit to or about damn near everyone on the planet, but we have to give props to the biting specificity of referring to Grimes as a “brittleboned methhead” who smells “like a roll of nickles.”

And finally, Princess Nokia noted the similarities between her song “Mine” (from her 1992 mixtape) and recently released Ariana Grande single “7 rings.” “Ain’t that the lil song I made about brown women and their hair?” she asks in a video posted to Twitter (and since deleted), concluding “Hmmm… sounds about white.” Soulja Boy also chimed in, claiming Grande had ripped off portions of his 2010 hit “Pretty Boy Swag.” The opening bars of Grande’s single crib more obviously from The Sound of Music‘s “My Favorite Things;” though Julie Andrews has yet to jump on the outrage bandwagon, someone who must be a literal genius mashed up all four artists and it kinda slaps. While we’re no fan of Grande’s ongoing issues with cultural appropriation, we’re calling this beef a draw – there’s nothing new under the sun, especially when it comes to hip-hop samples.

Chris Brown Accused of Rape in Paris

We’ll never forgive Chris Brown for using former girlfriend Rihanna as his personal punching bag – but we’re especially disgusted by the new lows he’s reached this week. A 24-year-old woman accused the singer and his entourage of taking turns raping her in his hotel suite at the Mandarin Oriental in Paris, where Brown had been attending Fashion Week events. The French are notoriously skeptical of rape victims, so it’s no surprise that Brown and the two other men accused of assaulting the woman were released within a few days on their own recognizance; the investigation is still ongoing. Rather than lying low, Brown took to social media in an attempt to discredit his alleged victim, even going so far as to create some truly tasteless merch that plays on the unfounded trope that women lie about sexual assault.

For what it’s worth, this isn’t the first time that someone has accused his entourage of mistreating women in their periphery – there’s a pending legal case against Brown, in which a woman claims she was raped by one of Brown’s friends at one of the singer’s drug-fueled parties.

That New New

Spanish sensation Rosalía released what has to be our favorite video this week, with a clip for “DE AQUÍ NO SALES” from her stunning 2018 album El Mal Querer.

Jenny Lewis is back with Stevie Nicks-ish jam “Red Bull & Hennessey,” a drink we do not recommend. It’s the first single from On The Line, due March 22.

Broken Social Scene shared details on their forthcoming EP Let’s Try The After – Vol. 1, which will arrive next month, along with early single “All I Want.”

Sneaks, the difficult-to-define solo project of queer black feminist Eva Moolchan, returns with Highway Hypnosis, her third studio album.

Sascha Ring, who produces electronic music as Apparat, announced LP5, his first album in six years, with diaphanous lead single “Dawan.”

J. Cole is producing a comp featuring artists from his Dreamville imprint entitled Revenge Of The Dreams II; his track “Middle Child” is the project’s official first single.

Groove Denied, an electronic solo album by Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus that was reportedly rejected by his label, will be released via Matador in March. The first single is the delightfully weird “Viktor Borgia.”

Lady Lamb announced her next album Even in the Tremor will arrive April 5th on Ba Da Bing Records, and has shared its title track.

Teyana Taylor,  Lena Waithe, and Mykki Blanco vogue their way through a ballroom dance-off for the ages in Taylor’s new video for “WTP,” from last year’s Kanye West-produced K.T.S.E.

Capping off her EP trilogy in March with Blue Pine, Munya shared the first of its three songs, “It’s All About You;” all three EPs will be packaged together as a full-length LP released on the same day.

Seattle’s Dude York have released two new singles alongside two previously released singles as the aptly titled EP Happy In The Meantime via Bandcamp.

Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst have appeared on each other’s albums in the past, but now the pair have teamed up to release a surprise record as Better Oblivion Community Center.

Vampire Weekend are back with a pair of singles, titled “Harmony Hall” and “2021;” both will appear on their fourth album and first in nearly six years. Titled Father of the Bride, it’s supposedly got 18 tracks and future singles will be released in pairs as well.

Florence + The Machine released a jazzy stand-alone single and its b-side on the heels of last year’s rousing High As Hope LP.

End Notes

  • Ariel Palitz, NYC’s new Nightlife Mayor, sat down with Billboard to share what she’s learned in her first year on the job, and how she plans to support the city’s DIY music community.
  • A Michael Jackson musical is in the works.
  • The Oscar nominations are in and we’re totally rooting for Lady Gaga, who’s up for Best Actress for her role in A Star Is Born. The film is nominated for best Best Picture, alongside Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody (despite some recent sexual abuse allegations against its director). Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper seem like favorites to win Best Song for “Shallow” but Kendrick Lamar and SZA could give them a run for their money with “All The Stars,” from Black Panther. David Rawlings and Gillian Welch (“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns), and Diane Warren and Jennifer Hudson (“I’ll Fight” from RBG) round out the Best Song nominations.
  • Spotify introduced a “mute” feature that allows users to essentially block particular artists from popping up on your playlists. It’s a nice compromise given their failed attempt to censor artists they’d deemed problematic, not to mention allowing folks to avoid that overplayed earworm-of-the-moment.
  • Pickathon 2019 lineups have been announced, with Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats and Khruangbin scheduled to headline.
  • It’s been a good week for cool band merch – check out this stuffed Ozzy Osbourne bat (with detachable head) and the new Morrissey Funko Pop.
  • We’re still not sure if it’s really the Pixies without Kim Deal, but the rest of the band are gearing up to release their seventh studio album (due in September), and a podcast about the band called “The Past Is Prologue” and hosted by Tony Fletcher will debut in June.
  • Some of hip-hop’s biggest stars, including Jay-Z and Meek Mill, have founded REFORM Alliance, aimed at much-needed criminal justice reform.
  • As the government shutdown stretches on, musicians from Kiss to Nile Rodgers are donating concert tickets, hot meals, and more to furloughed workers.


When Andrea Lo talks about Belle Game, the concept of serendipity keeps coming up. It was serendipity that she met her bandmates Adam Nanji (guitar) and Alex Andrew (drums) when they were all in grade school. Adam went off to McGill, where he met future keyboardist Katrina Jones in a bagel shop; now the two are engaged. It was serendipity when the newly minted band, after releasing their 2013 debut Ritual Tradition Habit, scored a residency at the Banff Center in Alberta with then artist-in-residence Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene, a fellow Canadian band that had a huge influence on Belle Game’s early sound. It was serendipity that their longtime manager started working with Arts & Crafts, one of Canada’s most influential independent record labels, linking them once again with Drew and also with Dave Hamelin of the Stills, who would produce their long-awaited follow-up. And now, four years later, through all that serendipity and a lot of hard work, too, Fear/Nothing has finally arrived, an album that transformed Belle Game’s straightforward indie sound into heavy-hitting dream pop, almost relentless in its interrogation of the human soul.

At the center of that sound is Lo’s uncommonly powerful voice – one that, in a pop realm, would give Adele a run for her money. While lots of synth-heavy dream pop buries vocals into a swirl of reverb and guitar distortion, Lo’s dramatic, mantra-like lyrics sit right up front in the mix, demanding to be heard and daring listeners to really feel something. Lo says that singing has taught her to really reclaim space for herself. “Many of us grow up in situations where we feel we have to be palatable,” she says. “I think music, for me, has always had a vein of challenging myself to see what goes beyond my current perspective of what I know, what I understand, of myself and of the world.” And it’s working well for her and the rest of Belle Game – in addition to the release of Fear/Nothing, the band is opening for Broken Social Scene’s latest North American tour. Audiofemme caught up with Lo while the band prepped for a sold-out date in Washington DC, and in a candid discussion, the singer discussed her personal philosophies, dished on working with Drew, and described those serendipitous moments in detail as vivid as the lyrics she wrote for Fear/Nothing.

Audiofemme: All in all it took four full years for you to follow up your debut – why was that? And what caused you to shift your sound from more straightforward indie rock to a dream pop, or as you refer to it, “crush pop” aesthetic?

Andrea Lo: When we wrote [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Ritual Tradition Habit] and toured behind it we had the utmost intention of writing and recording the next album right away and releasing it, and in that whole process, we had maybe three or four release dates [for Fear/Nothing] that never occurred, whether the songs weren’t quite right or the market wasn’t quite right or something was a little bit off. And it was serendipitous – despite our impatience in wanting to release the album, I really don’t think it would’ve been anything close to what it is now unless we took those four years. Not to get all existential, but I think it was so necessary because it was a process where we were – I wouldn’t even say discovering – it was like a process of shedding, you know? We had released Ritual Tradition Habit under different ideals and different understandings of what music was and how to create it and how we engaged with it. And in going through the transformations that occurred, both personally or as a group, we were able to create something that was a lot more honest. And I say transformation not only in the terms of tangible situations, but also internally, a lot of things were shifting. We were growing up, as I’m sure many people can relate to. You look back and realize you had no fucking clue what you were doing, even when you thought you had it all figured out. It was a lot of growing up, a lot of stripping away our ideals of who we were, what meant a lot to us, what type of music we wanted to create. We went from wanting to make a certain type of music, to being like, fuck it, let’s just make the space and just create.

“Spirit” was the first song that we wrote for this album and I think it’s a huge explanation of the process that would occur over the next few years as we would continue to write. But essentially what it was, when we wrote that song, it was the dropping of all guards and just moving from a very logic based approach to something that was more of a feeling. And I’m not even talking about an emotion, although emotion does come in, but it wasn’t like, I feel sad so I’m gonna write a sad song. Just physiologically moving through the process, allowing the body to express itself in the way that it wanted to in that moment while we were creating. So a lot of the songs started out with just jamming, messing around with sounds, and we would just all come into this pocket and go, wow, that felt really special, and from there we could do the more technical work of how long should the bridge be, where should we place the choruses, and what not.

AF: Well that time was especially formative too because you had this whole residency at Banff, met up with Kevin Drew, and wound up on Broken Social Scene’s record label Arts & Crafts. Can you talk a little bit about that and how it changed your destiny as a band?

AL: Absolutely. Again, super serendipitous. I don’t know if you’ve recognized this thing in life where sometimes you make a choice, or you make a decision, and it’s almost as if life presents you with all the support that you need to continue along the path, and you’re like, oh, hey, I guess I might be doing the right thing. So that’s kind of what our whole process felt like. We met Kevin at the Banff Center when we were doing a residency there back in fall 2013. We were all huge fans of Broken Social Scene and it had narrated so much of our teenage lives, so we were very grateful to be accepted into the program. And I think, what occurred there – I don’t know, apparently Banff has like, rivers of rose quartz running underneath it, so anyone who subscribes to that would just resonate with how much you feel your heart is being opened. But I think just the environment alone, it feels amazing. So we met him there and we had no fucking clue what to expect. All we knew was that we were meeting one of our greatest idols of all time, and everyone always says never meet your idols. But Kevin Drew, we loved meeting. He was there during the birth of “Spirit” actually. And I don’t know what resonance Kevin had; maybe he just walked around like some sort of spirit animal with a really vibrant aura or something, but he really was one of the huge catalysts in helping us move from logic to feeling. He would listen to our music and be so candid. Like, if he thought something was crap, he’d just be like, I hate this song. But it would be in the most laid-back, loving, matter-of-fact Kevin Drew sort of way. With music, you can’t have a step-by-step manual, and his approach was telling us to get out of our heads. He changed our conversation with music, just like that.

AF: And so now you get to do this whole tour with Broken Social Scene, which must feel really exciting.

AL: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. We totally didn’t expect to meet Kevin Drew, and then to work with Kevin Drew, and then to be on Arts & Crafts, and then even when we were on Arts & Crafts we weren’t sure if we would get a tour with Broken Social Scene. They had broken up. Then they end up releasing Hug of Thunder almost a month to the day before we finally put out Fear/Nothing, after waiting so long to do it. You can’t argue with the timing, and it wasn’t planned at all. I think about it and I go, how interesting that it took us three years longer than expected, to go through all this, bitching and groaning the whole way through, like why can’t we release this album, to four years later, Broken Social Scene is back together with a new album and we’re going on tour with them!

AF: Speaking of Fear/Nothing, I want to discuss one theme of the record that keeps coming up: the idea of pushing past your comfort zone to reach something deeper. In the video for “Spirit” that’s reflected by the Well of Death rider, it’s also in the album title, it’s also apparent to the sonic evolution of the band. Could you talk a little bit about that process of pushing through to find some truer essence to your music?

AL: Music has been a personal evolution for me and the avenue that my evolution is expressed through. When we first started Belle Game, I would sing with my back to the audience, and I wouldn’t want to go on stage. I’d get violent stage fright. I worked a cushy corporate job before that, and I thought I was gonna climb the corporate ladder. It was really hard to leave that and devote myself to Belle Game fully. But even though I was so afraid of it, there was just something in my gut saying you have to do this if you want to engage in living life. And without even knowing what that would look like or if I’d end up in the poor house, I just said yes to it. I quit my job; they were gonna promote me to like, regional sales manager at this gaming corporation, but I was like, nope, I’m gonna focus on music, I’m not gonna take the promotion. I’ve always had this strong will, this ability to push through calamity. Maybe it’s stubbornness. Just growing up and really facing yourself is challenging. It’s interesting to look back on the four years it took to make Fear/Nothing because it like we’ve been writing it as so many different people along the way, with different understandings of the world, the ways we engage with it, different levels of openness and being guarded. It’s like a picture album, one where we’re acknowledging the grey areas in life, and living amongst fear and living amongst nothingness, and having those two coexist, and the different definitions in those words. Nothingness came as inspiration in so many ways – it came from deep states of depression and having a nihilist view of everything; nothingness in an elevated state in which I felt ecstasy and felt lifted up and without chains; feeling spaces, wanting to dive into a big black void of no sadness, no happiness, no anger, just neutrality and space around you, and the beauty of that nothingness. I think that we sometimes are afraid, when we fear the future or fear outcomes of anything, of not knowing what’s gonna happen. We forget that there’s so much freedom in nothingness, because nothingness provides for infinite possibility.

AF: That duality also works sonically; this album has a darker sound and lyrics than your last but overall there’s a greater sense of triumph. Do you intentionally seek out that dichotomy?

Andrea Lo of Belle Game

AL: One of the most challenging things in life is acknowledging its ugly parts, particularly of ourselves – those parts that we find shameful or are disgusted with. Letting it come into some sort of expression that doesn’t hurt anyone, that’s almost what singing has come to feel like. I’ve faced some challenging and tough things in my life, as we all do in our own way, but I find that singing is now almost a way to feel stripped down and bare and vulnerable and transparent and honest as possible. It’s like a personal exorcism. I always noticed these patterns in my life of going to extremes, so much that I even thought I had borderline personality disorder. But we need that, as humans. We don’t really allow it or accept it but we can learn from the pendulum swinging to the left, to one extreme, and then the pendulum swings right, and we need to learn from that extreme too. And it’s only when we allow it to swing freely and to express itself fully in the way it needs to that it begins to die down and slow down and find the middle. Which I believe incorporates both extremes but in a really healthy, good, balanced expression. If we all learn to live an observed life we can still have our emotions and all of that, but we’re an observer of it. We’re able to speak with it, to recognize it and not be completely swallowed up by it. But no one does it perfectly all the time.

AF: I’m interested in the power dynamics you explore on the record, particularly as they relate to feminine sexuality. Probably the most obvious example of you exploring that dynamic is “Bring Me,” and if you’re comfortable talking about it, I’d love to know what you had in mind when writing that song, and what you’re trying to get across.

AL: That’s the one song where I was thinking, is this too much?

AF: I love that it’s almost too much! It’s really startling and that’s where it gets so much of its power.

AL: That song, ultimately, and all the songs, I’ve heard people interpret in so many different ways, and I think that’s such an important part of music – that my words, no matter what they meant to me, will resonate with people in whatever way they need it to. “Bring Me” started as a mellower song, until we worked with Dave [Hamelin], who asked us to really push it. And I think it was really one of the best things we could’ve done to listen to him and to do that. “Bring Me” is a lot more expansive than some people view it. There may be nuances or nods to a particular relationship, but the relationship wasn’t with a person, it was just with life. I had a lot of trouble singing that song; those notes were really big and I had to push myself to really do them, but it was a reclaiming of space and allowing myself to have those angry expressions. Again, I think I had two dualities – you can see one on “High,” where I’m in a phase of spiritual bypass – but with “Bring Me,” with “Low,” I’m really allowing myself to feel that anger and that perverted taunting of life to “see what I can do.” Bring me all of these things! In that song I allow myself to be accusatory and let myself talk about shit that happened to me and let myself express it in regards to having been affected. It’s so charged because that’s one of the first times I allowed myself to delve into anger, and through that anger, reach empowerment. Life will just find a way to challenge you in many different manifestations, and we go through things we never completely rid ourselves of, we just learn to change our conversation about it and learn to work with it, and it can be even more amazing than if we got rid of it. So “Bring Me” was essentially allowing myself to have anger, to accuse, and to admit to myself that I’ve been affected by things and dare life to throw it at me again, because I’ve gotten to a point where I’m working smarter and feel more in charge.


AF: What is it like to channel that anger and emotion every night on stage? Whether it’s “High” or “Low” or “Bring Me” – really the whole album has an emotional rawness and realness. How do you channel that night after night in an authentic way?

AL: I think, going back to Ritual Tradition Habit, I remember my bandmates pushing me to write more honestly, but I think I felt too raw. When you’ve just achieved some sort of balance, you don’t want to go back there because you feel like you’ll fall off the deep end. But the past four years of writing this album, especially the last two and half years, was an ability to create a much stronger foundation within myself. So now I can visit the pendulum, the extremes, to dip into all of those things and still remain centered and grounded and not be swept away by revisiting it. Even something simple, like taking away my mic stand so I force myself to move around more – that helps me be more honest and vulnerable. The social norm is to keep it contained, but the less fear I feed into that, when I allow for that space around me, the easier it becomes. I actually sleep easier after performing! Such a huge lesson of life is stripping away at ourselves and allowing ourselves more true expression. It’s really healthy for us.

AF: I love that the album places such value on the strength in vulnerability. I love that the repetition of certain lines almost acts like a mantra – even something like “Oh I” which is literally the entirety of the lyrics – the more you hear it, the more the meaning of those syllables morphs. It’s a thought that trails off or it’s something you can’t say, or it’s a sigh. Do you use mantras like that in your personal life or your life as a musician? What do you find yourself repeating that keeps you going?

AL: They’re always changing. There’s so much power in subtle repetition. The best way I can describe how it speaks to me is that whatever I’m facing, it’s like being unable to escape an idea. Instead you have to absorb it and integrate it, and learn how to live with it. If I moved on or forced another line to happen next, it wouldn’t be natural to me. It’s moving on too quick. I haven’t let it sink in yet or learned my lesson. I need to keep repeating it until it’s done. Right now we do a small jam after “Spirit,” and I often sing “feel me now/get better now/I love you now/forever now” just over and over and over again. Just imagine if you were sitting with someone, making eye contact, and you held their hands and just had them repeat that to you over and over again. Fuck. I would be a mess.

AF: Same! And I think the experience of seeing a band play music, though it’s a more communal experience, can have the same effect. Which ties into my last question – what are your hopes for this record and what’s in the future for the band?

AL: Oh man. Big, high hopes. Since we’re in this vein, we really wanna create moments on this tour where we can offer the experience of opening up with and for as many people as possible, because we do that too when we’re up there. That’s a huge goal, to create this ongoing catharsis.

Belle Game opens for Broken Social Scene at Brooklyn Steel on October 4th. For more tour dates, click here.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

NEWS ROUNDUP: Spotify Celebrates Pride, Meet Bot Dylan & More

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Palehound made a Pride playlist on Spotify.

  • Spotify Announces Pride Month Playlists
    From the streaming service’s press release: “In celebration of Pride Month, Spotify is proud to present The Spotify Pride Hub, a series that highlights queer icons and music of hope, self-acceptance and empowerment.” They’re using streaming data to rank the proudest cities, which seems a bit unnecessary, but they’re also offering playlists by LGBTQ activists and queer musicians. Don’t know where to start? We recommend this one, curated by Palehound.

  • The Future Of Music: A Folk Song Writing Robot?
    Move over, Bob Dylan; the A.I. program Bot Dylan can also write folk songs, though it probably won’t be winning a Nobel prize anytime soon. The bot was put to work analyzing tens of thousands of Irish folk songs, and from that data, has written a staggering amount of its own material. The London scientists who created it were surprised that the tunes weren’t that bad, either. Read more about Bot Dylan here and listen to one of its compositions below.

  • RIP Gregg Allman
    The Southern Rock  legend and member of the Allman Brothers Band died last Saturday due to complications from liver cancer. He was 69. Gregg was a vocalist and keyboardist and formed the Allman Brothers Band with his sibling, guitarist Duane. Even if they weren’t fond of the term, the group is crediting with creating Southern Rock and inspiring later jam bands. Read a full obituary here.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Kendrick Lamar, Brexit’s Musical Consequences & More

  • Kendrick Lamar Releases “Humble”

    “Wicked or weakness, you gotta see this.” Last night, the rapper released “Humble,” a visually stunning video that features Lamar dressed as a pope and recreating the last supper, among other things. The songs itself is full of low-key bravado, instructing other unnamed artists to “be humble.” Watch below:

  • How Will Brexit Affect The UK Music Scene?

    The answer is, badly. If Britain leaves the EU, it could be harder for musicians to tour across Europe due to visa issues and stricter border control, and it could lead to “currency fluctuation and/or devaluation alongside other commercial restrictions [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][that] will impact first and foremost on new bands taking trying to break into Europe.” The situation slightly mirrors the recent struggles of international artists who were turned back as they tried to attend SXSW. Read more about the Brexit situation here.

  • Union Hall Cancels Shows Due To Fire

    The cause has yet to be disclosed, but a fire that broke out last Friday has forced the Park Slope venue to cancel all April shows. Luckily, there were no injuries. A statement by the venue says they hope to reopen as quickly as possible, but they’re still assessing the damage.

  • Bob Dylan’s Triplicate Comes Out Today

    Yes, it’s another album of covers: 30 of them, to be exact. Dylan did an interview with Bill Flanagan last week, and revealed some details and intent behind it, such as that the album was recorded live, with no overdubs, and “these songs are meant for the man on the street, the common man, the everyday person.” Dylan adds, “Maybe that is a Bob Dylan fan, maybe not, I don’t know.” Listen to Triplicate’s “My One And Only Love” below.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]