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Sad13 (Sadie of Speedy Ortiz)
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It's very strange ("Or not strange at all! Hi!" says feminism) that most of the music we funnel into little girls' ears—even music written by former little girls—is about how women are petty, pretty garbage whose only valuable function is to hold perfectly still in men's boudoirs and wait for intercourse. "I wanted to make songs that were the opposite of 'Genie in A Bottle' or 'The Boy Is Mine,'" Sadie Dupuis says of Slugger, her new solo album under the name Sad13. "Songs that put affirmative consent at the heart of the subject matter and emphasize friendship among women and try to deescalate the toxic jealousy and ownership that are often centered in romantic pop songs." What!? Songs for women that actually champion women's autonomy, reflect women's desires, listen to women when they talk, and let women be funny and normal and cool, like women actually are?
After being born, which she totally nailed, Sadie grew up in New York City, toured internationally with a professional children's choir, then bounced around Massachusetts before eventually landing in Philadelphia "like every other feminist punk." She has an MFA in poetry from UMass Amherst, likes comics WITH AN ALL-CAPS PASSION, has written for Nylon and Spin, and is mega-beloved for her rock band Speedy Ortiz. Most recently, finding herself disillusioned with a lifetime of misogynist radio pop and yearning for the megalomaniacal autonomy of a solo project, Sadie/Sad13 churned out Slugger in a two-week fury.
Slugger is a pure solo effort. Sadie didn't just write and sing and play guitar, she recorded and produced the record herself in a subletted bedroom in Fishtown—a not insignificant act of feminist defiance. Despite millennia of evidence to the contrary, women in music are still relentlessly pigeonholed as, essentially, decorative. Sure, you can be a girl singer, or a girl tambourine player, or, once in a while (the height of novelty!), a girl drummer, but a girl producer? A girl engineer? Cool X-File, Mulder! Sadie steers Slugger with a serene sure-footedness, vaporizing that old lie better than any howling polemic ever could. The best revenge is to do your work.
Slugger's musical touchstones are vast and varied: contemporary pop à la Charli XCX, Santigold, Kelela, Grimes; folk songwriters Karen Dalton and Connie Converse; '90s trip-hop; riot grrrl (duh); plus Sad13's feminist indie and punk contemporaries like Tacocat, Waxahatchee, Mitski, and Bully. Slugger shouldn't feel like a revolution, but it does—in both content and execution. This is fun music about real shit.
Vagabon is the project of guitarist and singer Lætitia Tamko, currently accompanied by Elise Okusami on drums and Eva Lawitts on bass. Vagabon's debut EP, Persian Garden, was released late 2014 on Miscreant Records. According to DIY magazine, "Vagabon finds various ways to flood the senses. It'll either come in a harrowing lyric that sticks in the conscience, or it'll arrive from a soft drone that gradually envelops." so it must be true.
Emily Reo takes things slow. In 2009 she put out Minha Gatinha, an album of narcotized dream-pop that sounded like she'd been on a steady diet of Neil Young's honey slides (she also covered "On the Beach", capturing and translating the song's despair for a bedroom recording generation that spent the last three years stuck on Beach House). In the years following, the Orlando-born singer and synth manipulator's output came to a standstill as she moved from Florida to New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. Olive Juice, Reo's first official release in several years-- even though five of the album's eight songs have already been around for awhile in different form-- shows she's gone a long way musically as well. Though her vinyl debut and sophomore record still moves along at a resting heart rate, she's shed the heavy-lidded haze that swaddled these songs the first time around. Olive Juice is Reo's first album for Elestial Sounds, the Gainesville-based record label and collective behind Hundred Waters and Levek. It's the perfect platform for Reo, who also belongs to FMLY, a "DIT" (do it together) assemblage of visual artists, musicians, and other creatives. That nurturing community has always been an important part of Reo's work-- when she covered Built to Spill's "Car" at FMLY Fest last year, by the end of the song at least one audience member was cradled in another's lap, which is kind of what her music makes one feel like doing. On Minha Gatinha, that manifested itself as lo-fi murmurs suitable for times when drifting off to sleep starts to sound more appealing than being awake, like rainy afternoons or staying up late enough to watch the sun rise. That warm and fuzzy feeling doesn't come through quite as strongly on Olive Juice, whose comparatively crystal-clear production value can take some time to get used to. But the songs sound much better now that you can actually hear them. "Car" is a pretty good example, especially since the lyrics "I want specifics/ On a general idea" may as well be about Olive Juice. Like "On the Beach", Reo's 2010 version of the cover nearly drowns out her voice in reverb, and the volume is turned way up on the original's buzzing organs. With different tools at her disposal this time-- namely, a recording studio-- she sharpens the focus, leaving room for harder-hitting drums and a more coherent structure. More importantly, Reo's voice is now front and center, loaded and plaintive like Doug Martsch's and kaleidoscopic with her own echoes. Those same edits hold true for her other re-released songs: titles have been tightened ("Wind Can't Hear You" is now "Wind", "Metal on Your Skin" became "Metal", etc.), rhythms made more pronounced, and tape-deck dust swept away to reveal a palette of bright synth colors. The keyboard warbles at the beginning of "Wind" aren't unlike those at the beginning of the Postal Service's "Clark Gable," and Reo's multi-tracked vocals nod to Imogen Heap's harmonies on "Hide and Seek". A new album of mostly reissues that's not billed as a re-release might seem like cheating, but Reo has said she views Minha Gatinha as a collection of demos made while she was still learning how to write and record songs, which makes sense. Olive Juice, then, is a natural artistic progression, even more so now that her old songs fit like puzzle pieces with the new ones. Such consistent aesthetics might prove limiting as Reo writes more new material, but until she sets her sights on something grander, they're perfectly lovely.
"Told Slant is the project of drummer/singer Felix Walworth. What I love about his drumming is that it's a thunderous propellant, an essential element to the song without being up front and in the way of the voice and guitars. Felix stands behind a very large bass drum on a makeshift stand and plays organic rhythms on mostly bottom heavy drums with arms flailing in ways I didn't know was really possible. All the while his voice conjures up the hiccup of Sparks and deep power of Bryan Ferry or Lou Reed, but more fun." -Bob Boilen with Vagabon, Emily Reo, Told Slant