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.

The Looking Glass Singles Series Reflects the Best of Brooklyn Imprint Mexican Summer

There’s no question that one of the best things to come out of this absolute shitshow of a year has been Bandcamp Fridays; the first Friday of every month, the music streaming platform waives its revenue share to provide an extra boost to struggling artists who use it to promote their music. Though the difference in percentage of profits that goes into the artists’ pockets is somewhat negligible given its already artist-friendly pay structure (a recent post updating the schedule for 2021 puts it at 93% versus 82% on any other day of the month) the crucial aspect of Bandcamp Fridays is that it boosts visibility for the most essential workers in the music industry – musicians and labels themselves.

No doubt equally inspired by Bandcamp Fridays as it was by indie label 7″ subscription clubs of the ’90s, Brooklyn imprint Mexican Summer is going the extra mile to shake things up with a Bandcamp-centric series they’ve dubbed Looking Glass. It’s a virtual treasure trove of unique, previously unreleased singles, by everyone from label stalwarts like Ariel Pink and Connan Mockasin to more obscure psych, folk, and drone artists like São Paulo’s Sessa, Tokyo’s Kikagaku Moyu, and Chicago’s Matchess.

The first series ran from April 2020 to late July 2020, featuring beautiful, mysterious cover art by Bailey Elder (at one point, Mexican Summer offered a free download of her clip art-esque illustrations as a “coloring page”). After a brief lapse, the series started up again in October with “Love’s Refrain,” a gorgeous instrumental Jefre Cantu-Ledesma song with all-new vocals by Julie Byrne (Elder reprised her role as cover designer, this time with watercolory collages in muted hues), and has gone on to feature the likes of hip hop upstart Nappy Nina alongside celebrated dub duo Peaking Lights and avant-country singer Dougie Poole. So far, the series boasts over thirty entries that represent the label’s penchant for supporting adventurous sounds, whether the contributors are officially signed or not.

The label posits that the project “focuses on the human condition as reflected through chance and destined encounters” and is “a portal for creative exploration and community to resonate through all versions of reality… to encourage discovery, diversity, and collaboration.” While that’s a pretty heady sentiment, Looking Glass somehow more than accomplishes the task.

It’s an ethos that’s especially in line with that of Los Angeles-based minimal wave synthpop artist Geneva Jacuzzi. “Maybe I’m a person who was destined to be miserable but who refused destiny and the only way to alter the cosmic DNA was to hack the matrix,” she riffs. “That is pretty much what music is. It hold secret codes to alternate universes.” She likens music to a secret, primal language. “That is how communities of people come together over music. They are all part of the same alien tribe and the music is more alive than they are.” Her entry into the singles series, “Dark Streets,” was originally part of an ongoing conceptual performance and video play called Dark Ages that spanned from 2011-2015; she created a stand-alone video for “Dark Streets” in 2012, but the song was never officially released.

“The inspiration came one evening when I was recording and wanted to encapsulate the feeling of driving aimlessly into the night… looking for something but not knowing what… and then encountering certain dark forces that guide you into oblivion. Almost like looking for trouble, or meaning, or an adventure but finding yourself lost and a little scared. Pre-GPS you know?” Jacuzzi explains. “In a way, it seemed fitting for the time we are all in. It’s been a little scary and uncertain. Me being an optimist, I thrive in times of uncertainty because I know there is always an interesting surprise waiting in the unknown, even if it feels dark or freaky.” This, she says, made it a good fit for Looking Glass.

Though closely associated with some of Mexican Summer’s marquee acts, Geneva Jacuzzi has remained staunchly DIY, rarely putting out traditional releases in the nearly twenty years she’s been actively making music. But her experience with Looking Glass might change all that; though still tight-lipped, she says she and Mexican Summer have “some fun things planned for the future.”

“If we don’t change, we die right?” she jokes. “Or at least get depressed and bitter.”

Madison McFerrin channeled some residual bitterness into her piano-driven single for the Looking Glass project, “Hindsight.” Though it sounds like a typical ballad about love gone wrong (“How should I let you go/With nothing left to show/Was it right for you to stay?/Was it wrong to walk away?/Could’ve said we went for it…”) but rather than a romantic partner, McFerrin says the track was inspired by disillusionment with the Democratic primaries, in which Joe Biden won the party nomination over the decidedly more progressive Bernie Sanders. “Sonically, ‘Hindsight’ is like going through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I like to think that, like the song, we’ll be leaving 2020 on a hopeful note,” McFerrin says.

Though not specifically written for the series, McFerrin adds that she was “really drawn to how Mexican Summer were making the Looking Glass project Bandcamp-focused” when the label reached out to her over the summer asking if she would participate, and she made the decision to self-produce the track. “I wanted to push myself. Quarantine afforded me the time to really work on production and I felt confident enough to share that next phase of my artistry,” she says. “This was the first time I had been in a studio since the start of COVID, so my biggest challenge was feeling one-hundred percent comfortable. There’s always this neon PANDEMIC sign flashing in the back of my mind these days. But when I actually started playing and singing, it made me feel much more relaxed.”

As for the political work still to be done, McFerrin says, “We have to make sure that we continue to engage, especially locally. Mutual aid groups like Bed-Stuy Strong in Brooklyn are doing great work providing food and cleaning supplies to those most vulnerable to COVID-19 in the community. Through grassroots movements, hopefully we can continue to grow the progressive movement and push the people at the top.”

As it turns out, the Looking Glass series can help with that, too – some of the artists, like Texas-born, L.A.-based folk singer Jess Williamson, have opted to donate the proceeds from single sales to various organizations. Williamson released 2018’s Cosmic Wink and this year’s stunning Sorceress via Mexican Summer after self-releasing two previous records and an EP; as their titles would imply, Williamson has a bit of a witchy streak, and is donating proceeds from her swooning, dreamy “Pictures of Flowers” to Harriet’s Apothecary, an “intergenerational Brooklyn-based healing village led by Black Cis Women, Queer and Trans healers, artists, health professionals, magicians, activists and ancestors… rooted in the wisdom of our bodies, our ancestors and our plant families.”

“I wanted the proceeds from the song to go to them because I really admire the work they’re doing,” Williamson says, which includes expanding access to health and healing resources that support Black, Indigenous and PoC communities.

The song itself was directly inspired by Williamson’s quarantine experience, which was compounded by both the end of a significant relationship and being unable to tour to support her new album. “I spent most days walking around my neighborhood, and I was struck by how different it felt to me at that time versus when I first came to the neighborhood over four years ago,” she says.

She sent a demo of the song to Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy, who plays slide guitar over Williamson’s contemplative acoustic guitar and lilting vocals. “Meg was the first person to hear the song, and I was really nervous they wouldn’t like it. Thankfully, Meg responded positively, and I got the courage to ask if they’d be down to lay some guitar down remotely,” Williamson says. “Normally I’d be afraid to ask, but we were all sitting around doing nothing so I think I had that working in my favor, ha. Meg recorded everything from their home studio, I recorded from mine, and then I sent everything to Jarvis Taveniere who laid down drums, bass, and mellotron, and mixed it.”

“Pictures of Flowers” is a heartbreaking time capsule, juxtaposing the freedom Williamson felt pre-pandemic with what seemed like the end of the world. “Taking vitamins/Calling all my friends/Momma’s feelin’ calm/She trusts the president/Don’t wanna get a gun/What if I move in with someone?/Grow a garden in case the stores all run out,” she sings, ending the track with the trail of a dangling thought: “I had a dream we were in Japan…”

Similarly, experimental composer Lucy Gooch let dreams inspire “We Carry,” her contribution to Looking Glass – though hers was a recurring dream she’s had since childhood. In it, she and her sister are at school and the playground tarmac turns to glass, revealing “a deep, dark ocean in which enormous sea-creatures weave and dive.” Gooch says “We Carry” was “one of those rare songs that appears quickly,” though it was already recorded when label co-founder Keith Abrahamsson reached out to her about contributing something. “I’ve always been a big fan of the label so it was pretty amazing to hear from him,” Gooch says. “I see the song as being a kind of hymn to blurry memories, and to childhood.”

The UK-based synth artist represents an emerging name in ambient music, her sound akin to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (who, incidentally, contributed a track called “Lagoon” to Looking Glass). Gooch released her debut EP Rushing in May of 2020, which “comprised looping and more labored arrangement,” she says. “‘We Carry’ was the first song I wrote without any looping and it reminded me that sometimes it’s better to lean into more traditional songwriting methods, rather than trying always to subvert them. I like music that has enough space in it, but that still plays with more intricate ideas.”

Across the Looking Glass series, that balance can be found in spades. Whether based on alien languages, or a dream within a dream, or hope in the face of an epic letdown, music’s ability to connect all of us – especially in a year of such jarring disconnect – transcends genre and remains its most enduring quality. After more than a decade of releasing soul-stirring records, the folks at Mexican Summer have learned to celebrate this wholeheartedly, and the Looking Glass singles reflect their mission brilliantly.

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