MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Oceanator, The Linda Lindas, Suzi Quatro, Flummox

Welcome to Audiofemme’s record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. The last Monday of each month, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Brooklyn-based musician Elise Okusami has released her sophomore record as Oceanator, Nothing’s Ever Fine (Polyvinyl Record Co.). The album takes you through the course of a single day, an emotional journey that’s both fraught and reflective. The shimmering guitars of the opening track, “Morning,” hint at the turmoil that lies ahead. But the day gets off to a good start with “The Last Summer,” a fond look back at the bygone days of cruising around with your friends, and “Beach Days (Alive Again),” about the glory of spending time in the sun.

Then reality comes crashing back in the stark “Solar Flares,” as that sun turns into a destructive force (“The lights fade/And the grid fails/The phones are down/No water to be found”). From that point on, tensions rise. “Stuck,” with its crunchy guitars and quiet verse/loud chorus dynamic is reminiscent of ’90s indie rock (think Pixies, Nirvana). “From the Van” is a twisted trip on the road to nowhere, a gnarly mash-up of grunge and Beach Boys harmonies. The bright pop of “Bad Brain Daze” can’t disguise the incessant anxiety that runs through the song like the sound of a clock that’s ticking too loudly. Nightfall brings some solace in “Summer Rain.” But while the closing song, “Evening,” starts out with dulcet tones, it soon escalates into an all-encompassing roar of sound that leaves you with a sense of unease. Nothing’s Ever Fine is an excellent depiction of the uncertainties that might plague you during your waking hours, set to a roiling musical backdrop that demands your attention.

The Linda Lindas were already making a splash. The LA-based band, formed in 2018 by two sisters, their cousin, and a friend (then between the ages of 8 and 13), quickly found themselves opening for Bikini Kill, appearing in Amy Poehler’s movie Moxie, and recording a song for the documentary The Claudia Kishi Club. Then a video of the band performing on May 4, 2021, at a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library went viral, and everything ramped up; by the end of that month they had a record deal with Epitaph.

Now comes their debut album for the label, Growing Up, an invigorating, joyful blast of poppy punk. There are songs about cats, like “Nino,” the savage killer of mice and rats who’s nonetheless the “friendliest cat you’ll meet.” There are songs about racism, including the raging “Racist Sexist Boy,” inspired by a comment made to drummer Mila de la Garza at school, and the similarly themed “Cuántas Veces” (the band’s members are of Asian and Latino heritage). “Talking to Myself” is about the anxiety of being alone during a time of isolation (and also has a great video inspired by a Twilight Zone episode). If “Why” strikes a despairing note (“I just shout and never sing/No one likes it anyway”), the overall vibe is decidedly positive, centered around the group’s empowering credo, “We rebuild what you destroy.” And in the best punk tradition, the album’s running time is just under 30 minutes.

After getting her start in her father’s band, the Art Quatro Trio, and then joining her sister Patti in the Pleasure Seekers, Suzi Quatro moved to the UK in 1971 to pursue a solo career. The hits “Can the Can,” “48 Crash” and “Devil Gate Drive” followed, while in the US she became best known for the song “Stumblin’ In,” a duet with Chris Norman, and recurring role as musician Leather Tuscadero in Happy Days.

She’s since pursued a career in film, theater, and radio, but she never stopped recording, and 7TS Records is now reissuing some of her back catalogue. Up first is Back to the…Spotlight, featuring her first two albums of the 21st century, Back to the Drive (2006) and In the Spotlight (2011), as well as bonus tracks. They’re both albums that take her back to her rock ‘n’ roll roots. On the former, the title track has all the bracing swagger of the best of her ’70s work, the sassy “I Don’t Do Gentle” channels 1950s Elvis, and she powers through a storming cover of “Rockin’ in the Free World.” On In the Spotlight both “Rosie Rose” and Goldfrapp’s “Strict Machine” crackle with innuendo, there’s a rollicking cover of Elvis Presley’s “Hard Headed Woman,” and the best bonus track on the set, a cover of Abba’s “Does Your Mama Know.”

The words “Queer/Transfemme Nashville Prog/Metal band” in the subject heading of the email caught my eye – how can you not want to find out more from that description? Not to mention the “RIYL” tag that included not only Primus and Ween, but also Frank Zappa and Danny Elfman. Thus I discovered Flummox and their latest album, Rephlummoxed (Needlejuice Records).

You don’t have to see the band in performance to know there’s a strong element of theatricality in their work. Alyson Blake Dellinger, the band’s lead vocalist/bassist, says they wanted the track “Pan’s Daughter” (inspired by Arthur Machen’s novella The Great God Pan) “to sound like a horror film,” and the song’s grinding maw of sound, which switches into a pummeling overdrive, then burns out leaving nothing behind but ashes, certainly brings some unsettling imagery to mind.

But not every song sounds like it’s trying to beat you into submission. “Hummingbird Anthem” is something of a country-esque stomper. “Custodian Ralph” has a taut new wave beat underlying an increasingly fractured melody. Then in comes the headbanging power of “The Whispering Banshees,” no holds barred rawk that shakes you down to your shoes. Take a walk on the wild side.

Squirrel Flower Burns Rubber on New LP Planet (i)

musician Squirrel Flower, wearing a denim jacket, stands partially turned away from the camera, with bright glare from the sun partially obscuring the image
musician Squirrel Flower, wearing a denim jacket, stands partially turned away from the camera, with bright glare from the sun partially obscuring the image
Photo Credit: Tonje Thilesen

“I feel like I’m like a hedonist,” says Ella Williams, the mastermind behind whimsically-named alt-pop project Squirrel Flower. “I just allow my impulses and my desires to affect the actions I take.”

She’s discussing the beating heart track of her newest album, Planet (i), out June 25th on Polyvinyl. “Flames and Flat Tires” is one of the record’s most untethered tracks, with a sense of looseness and levity that contrasts with some of the album’s darker moments. And while the character in “Flames” isn’t explicitly Williams, she isn’t denying that sometimes she feels like she, too, is hurtling through life with her foot on the gas. 

“[‘Flames’] is partially inspired by this novella by an author named Torrey Peters,” she explains. “It’s called Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones. It’s like a queer, trans apocalypse story, and it takes place in Iowa, and the first couple scenes are this person on I-80 Iowa in this fucked-up car that they’re trying to like, fix themselves.” 

Planet seems to be quite taken with the things we can’t fix ourselves — natural disasters, busted cars, narcissistic people — but it’s not meant to be fatalistic. “[Planet is] not an apocalypse album because ‘apocalypse’ implies one event that changes the earth and makes it uninhabitable,” Williams says. “I think it’s just that we’re kind of living in an ongoing apocalypse, and in that are both moments of incredible utopia and moments of actual full-on disaster. And I think acknowledging both of those as things that happen at the same time is a huge point of the album.”

While disaster has certainly been the flavor of the past year and a half, Williams has been immersing herself as much as she can with the music scene in Chicago, where she recently moved. “I’ve been going to a lot of techno raves,” she says with palpable excitement. “It’s [these] incredible moments of utopia that I was talking about — just like very queer spaces and beautiful community spaces and dancing and techno, and it’s so sick.”

Williams moved to Chicago in part to be closer to her bandmates, but the opportunity to get to know a delicious new scene was undeniable. “I first went to a DIY show in Boston when I was sixteen,” she recalls. “From there it just like took over my life and changed my life and changed the way that I thought about music and [how I] thought music could work.” Williams emphatically credits the Boston music scene as instrumental to her journey as an artist — as well as the scene in Iowa and her experience recording Planet in London.

While the constant moving and adjusting can be difficult, Williams feels she has some precedent for living her life the way she does, mainly inspired by her grandfather, Jay Williams, who was a writer, Vaudeville performer, and “card-carrying Commie,” and his wife Bobby, a community organizer. “Every time I’m like, ‘damn — it would be nice to have like a little more money or a little more stability and not be living in like five different places every year’… I think about the way my ancestors have lived, which is very transient and allowing art and music and love and connections and relationships to guide them through life, as opposed to anything else,” Williams says.

While the overarching lyrical themes on Planet certainly reflect this transiency, there are a few small moments that approach it from a different angle — lead single “Hurt a Fly” and “Deluge in the South” both detail the experience of searching for refuge in other people, specifically in their homes. “But then I showed up at your door/With my head in my hands/And you took me in,” laments the narcissistic partner Williams channeled in the former, while she promises “I will take you in/Wrap you up again,” in the latter. While the two songs are not specifically connected, the concept of constructing home where you can, with what and who you can, is classic apocalypse.

But like Williams said, this is no apocalypse album. If anything, it’s simply observational. As a function of her DIY ethos, Williams has been rather boots to the ground since 2015, when she self-released her first EP, Early Winter Songs from Middle America. But even after her much-praised label debut (2020’s I Was Born Swimming, on Polyvinyl) Williams wasn’t allowed much distraction, instead finding herself stuck in quarantine with little to do but process everything she had experienced on her last self-booked tour. “I got home and had just like seen all of this really insane shit. I saw the desert in California for the first time and I was driving through Missouri and there was so much flooding that it looked like we were like driving through this field of glass, and there were billboards and trains going through and coming out of the water, and it was so nuts. Just like, insane storms after shows.” 

Williams is very preoccupied with weather and the power of water on Planet. It gets mentioned on almost every single track, most notably on “Desert Wildflowers.” “I’m another piece of debris/Flying above the town/Closer to the stars than I am to the ground,” she coos before the song’s central manifesto: “I’m not scared of the water/The rain is my parent and I am the daughter.”

“Desert” was the first song she wrote for the record. That songwriting session must have been some kind of unconscious preparation for things to come, as the song feels like an affirmation in the form of a lilting lullaby, like some part of Williams knew it was time to face the particular fears — or strengths, depending on how you look at them — that drape Planet like tapestries. 

“I got home and the song just came out,” she says. “And I kind of just rolled with it.” She wrote so much, in fact, that there is a whole other Planet album that exists somewhere in the stratosphere, or in some hidden folder on Williams’s computer. Call it Planet (ii), or call it the ghost album — either way, Williams doesn’t have any plans to release those songs any time soon. But it does haunt her in some ways, as ghosts tend to do. “Is the music only what’s shared with other people?” Williams asks. “Or is the music what you make and experience with yourself and your process?” Williams has plenty of time to keep looking for the answer, no matter where it takes her in her busted-up car.

Follow Squirrel Flower on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.


 The idea that beauty can be extracted from suffering is a bristling comfort, but a comfort nonetheless. Jamie Stewart has mastered this alchemic process in his 15-year post as Xiu Xiu founder and frontman. As we await impending doom – perhaps a nuclear fiasco, the severing of civil rights, or xenophobic federal doctrines – the thought that artistic expression has always withstood tragedy is a bite-sized bit of optimism. In a way, Xiu Xiu’s music is an anthem for this tiny silver lining.

Xiu Xiu’s latest record FORGET pulses with the blood of creative perseverance despite despair. Stewart summons a broad palette of emotion throughout, with the help of Xiu Xiu’s Angela Seo and Shayna Dunkelman, as well as appearances by Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, Charlemagne Palestine, performance artist Vaginal Davis and more. What some have dismissed as “exasperating” and “predictable” is in fact a dynamic and stimulating work, straddling the gamut of Xiu Xiu’s sonic potential.

FORGET kicks off in a brash way, with crass rap snippets by Enyce Smith on opening cut “The Call.” This jolt of agitation displaces us before the Xiu Xiu-typical gothic fog has even rolled in. Stewart’s gloomy croon glides over us, recalling Peter Murphy of Bauhaus – its sex appeal justifying its dreary malevolence. Smith’s snarling raps weave throughout “The Call,” adding provocative discordance. Though the effect might not work on paper, it is successful in sound.

Despite being the record’s most melodic, even uplifting track, “Wondering” triumphs as Xiu Xiu’s most strident “fuck you;” defying their own experimental legacy with a glittering pop song. Only Xiu Xiu could write a song so infectiously catchy and dance-enhancing that you don’t realize the words you are singing along with…namely: “Down on your knees/Swallow defeat.” It may be muffled, distorted, and strange, but Xiu Xiu’s unconventional production doesn’t rob the track of any sweetness. Without a scrap of hyperbole, one might call “Wondering” among the best pop songs ever written.

It’d be hard to find another band that could inject this much variety into a single record, let alone an entire career the way Xiu Xiu has. Their leap from “Wondering” to the following cut “Get Up” is a classic example of their versatility. Where “Wondering” is no doubt a dance number, “Get Up” is a drowsy ballad akin to Cocteau Twins with its breathy synths and climbing arpeggios. But it isn’t all dream pop appeal – Stewart channels his inner game show host when he shouts, “Rise from the dead!” This is one small example of the impeccable, fleshed-out production throughout FORGET; its soundscape inhabited by so many deliberate and well-placed details.

Aside from “Wondering,” the highpoint of FORGET is the frantic and visceral “Jenny GoGo,” which pairs Stewart’s darker side against his own fragility – while somehow remaining a fabulous dance track. The production on “Jenny GoGo” is far more gritty than “Wondering,” but no less intricate. Stewart’s vocals volley between frail whispers and Suicide-like shrieks that split the frenzied air. If you dig the work of Alan Vega and Martin Rev, Fad Gadget, or Einstürzende Neubauten, this one’s for you.

FORGET’s most disparate song is the eight-minute closer, “Faith, Torn Apart,” which commences with chapel bells before slipping into a gloomy and sinister rejection of piety. Demonic voices, haunting chants, and atonal synths warble and hypnotize before Vaginal Davis reads a closing poem, presenting herself as a child of a war-torn country:

“…My bindi has been rubbed to the side/My frown is for always/My family will never see me again/My goofy jokes hide my goofy damnation/My giggles excuse what just happened/My tears and my drool are all the same/My fear is for one and all/My dead-end childhood is just beginning…”

“Faith, Torn Apart” takes more time to digest than the rest of the record, but is all the more rewarding once its played a few times.

Is the most remarkable thing about Xiu Xiu their ability to master and subvert the pop song? Is it their ability to maintain our attention after 15 years of intrigue? Or is it their devotion to exploring the depths of sound, humor, and human emotion – no matter how terrifying? Surely, it’s a greasy, sweet, curdled, and bloody blend encompassing all of the above.