All right, this is it – the final part of 2023’s Missed Connections. Thanks for joining us yet again as I find new, impressive ways to make the subtitle for this feature more unwieldy than before. Next year’s gonna be a FUN ONE.
For our last one, we’re looking at blissful Spanish math rock from Peru, overlooked restorative pop, and some of the best heavy melodic music a duo could produce (totally not biased). Be sure to check out Part One and Part Two if you missed them!
I’m beginning to realize how math rock has become a comfort genre of sorts of mine – it never ceases to be a joy when relistening to the classics or catching up with inspiring newcomers. I am, however, rarely ever left starstruck over a song or record (math rock or otherwise) these days; you know, the sugar rush kind where a middle schooler stumbles upon the “Operation Ground and Pound” song and music video for the very first time, fresh out of the oven, and in all its 360p glory (it’s me, I was that middle schooler). Well, in continuation of this unexpected yearly tradition of music discoveries that leave me absolutely mindfucked in the best ways possible, I’ll be covering a neat little math rock EP I came across not too long ago for this edition of Missed Connections…
…Only that referring to it as a neat little math rock EP might very well be the biggest understatement I’ve written all year. Capsella Bursa Pastoris is the title of this debut offering by Peruvian math rock act kafuka, a release that contains six tracks of sprawling songwriting that effortlessly executes math rock precision, exudes fiery early 2000s post-hardcore energy, and tastefully captures the colors synonymous to j-rock sound palettes, all tied together by a striking performance that manages to be both blissful and tactful. The runtime might be under 25 minutes, but the impact these songs left on me after the initial listen is wild: Not only are the hooks strong on this EP, but the emotions conveyed throughout it taps into an aural embrace that simply gets to you in ways bands that lean towards these musical stylings seldom do.
“aparejo” introduces Capsella Bursa Pastoris with field recordings and a serene acoustic guitar passage that quickly compress and expand towards the next track “tëri”. Angular riffing and velvety vocals present kafuka’s core sonic identity, a match seamlessly executed through vibrant melodies and a penchant for daggered vulnerability. TTNG or tricot might come to mind for some reading this, though kafuka is truly anything but derivative – the sharpness of their songwriting is given ample aperture to soar through the soundwaves with an ease that is ethereal and freeing, consonant with the EP’s pastoral musings of longing, uncertainty, and love-ridden nostalgia. Add to that their keen pop sensibilities and you’re graced with something like “harumi”, a powerful showcasing of the band’s assets crystallized into one exhilarating track.
What impressed me the most about Capsella Bursa Pastoris, however, was the band’s ability to find strength in not being afraid of letting their musical chops breathe and take flight towards really poignant emotional highs. This is especially true with the following two tracks “catenarias” and “amapola”: the feeling of loss evoked by the former is beautifully translated to a cathartic expression of cheer sonic fervor – with one of the EP’s strongest musical moments in the form of a one-of-a-kind chorus – while the latter finds the five-piece engaging their more aggressive and sporadic affairs, ultimately building towards a stirring outro that exposes the glimmer of hope that is otherwise subtly present throughout Capsella Bursa Pastoris. Meanwhile, the closer “athenas” teases around with genuinely disorienting industrial elements that gets me curious and hyped for what’s to come from them in the (hopefully!) near future.
It’s moments like these that serve as reminders that there’s always something to look forward to when it comes to this artform, no matter how many years you’ve been acquainted with it. It also warms my heart the fact that there are other Latin American bands completely killing it and claiming their space within the math rock sphere. kafuka was for sure this year’s biggest surprise for me, and with Capsella Bursa Pastoris being just their debut, says a lot about their talent, passion, potential, and drive to craft fantastic music. Math rock fan or not, this is a band you’d definitely want to keep an eye on.
This has not been a good year for pop. New releases have been sparse, Taylor Swift evolved into Galactus, there is no new breakthrough act, and Carly Rae Jepsen finally dropped b-sides that sounded like b-sides. Other than Caroline Polachek and Lana (she does not make pop but I’m moving on) it’s been bleak for well received big pop projects – which is why it’s so unfortunate that Kesha’s Gag Order went so under the radar.
Normally talking about the process that resulted in a great album is fun but that is not the case with Gag Order. This is the result of Kesha’s ten year legal battle with her former producer Dr. Luke over sexual assault, battery, abuse, and illegal creative control over her music career as well as numerous defamation suits filed. The battle didn’t end till June, a month after the album dropped, when the two reached a settlement.
Just to make something clear, Kesha was never released from her record deal so this album was sent to die by her abuser’s record label, which was abandoned by RCA years ago and will die the second Doja Cat’s contract runs up.
Kesha’s past two albums began her professional separation from Dr. Luke, and at times the subject was brought up but never in a way that felt like it was satisfactory for the listener, and more importantly nothing ever felt like it was actually what its creator wanted to be saying. Having production guru, meditation specialist, and psychedelic wizard Rick Rubin in her corner has greatly helped Kesha open up.
Rubin and Kesha’s personalities blend perfectly (maybe a little too perfectly at times, there’s a few too many brief skits/interludes on Gag Order that are living proof of how well their ‘former party girl’ and ‘hippie that never grew out of it’ personalities meshed) and sonically Rubin’s moodier, synthy, and above all else psychedelic vibes help give Kesha the platform she needed to remove the gag. “Eat The Acid”, one of the lead singles from the album, is bleak, dreary, heavy, and the vocals go through different stages of autotuned hell to keep every minute fresh. There’s a lot going on on “The Drama” and it all is pulled together perfectly. There’s a Ramones interpolation, heavy ass bass, wild synths, killer vocals, and an outro about wanting to be reincarnated as a cat that Kurt Vile helped make.
“Fine Line” is the best song of Kesha’s career so far. It’s an incredibly angry, passionate, and drained track with some nice piano playing and heavy bass, plus the most creative writing of her career. I’m genuinely really surprised the censors that dictated what she was legally allowed to say let ‘all the Dr.’s and lawyers cut the tongue out of my mouth’ line get through. Beyond the incredibly well done snark, “Fine Line” does an incredible job walking the listener through how fatigued and frustrated Kesha has gotten fighting for ten years and you can really hear the exhaustion in the track’s closing line, ‘but hey, look at all the money we made off me’.
‘There’s a fine line between genius and crazy
There’s a fine line between broken and breaking
Spent my whole life tryna to change what they’re saying about me
Sick of walking that fine line
Fine line between selling out and being bought
Fine line between famous and being forgot
It’s time I’m coming down off of the cross
I’m sick of walking that fine line’
“TiK ToK” (the song not the app) and most of Kesha’s first two albums in general have given its creator the appearance of a vapid party girl without much going on musically and as much as more recent work has shown that there’s more to her work, Gag Order goes even further in showing just how much she’s grown.
I’ve always found A-list popstars/rappers making whole ass songs (or whole ass albums in the case of one Fitras Wyolt) to complain about ‘ThE hAtErZ’ tedious and boring, but “Hate Me Harder” is one of the only exceptions to this rule I’ve ever heard. The simple pianos in the instrumental work great and in this specific instance, the album’s consistent bluntness works great to point out how stupid most of the stan Twitter callouts are – especially with what Kesha’s actually been through.
Some of the moments that stay close to Kesha’s roots still work well with Rubin’s flare added. Kesha’s always been a fan of trying to blend hip-hop, electronic, soul, and everything she can come up with at once and the results tend to be a bit mixed, but “Only Love Can Save Us Now” works great because of the lyrics that make the track worth listening to and not just an empty pop ballad. Even though it starts with an philosophical intro about love that I do get tired of, “All I Need Is You” is smooth as hell and Kesha’s vocal carry the track.
“Living In My Head” does a phenomenal job at painting a picture of what the now of Kesha’s life is like without explaining the how, and perfectly conveys Kesha’s personal and mental struggles with insecurities. The stripped back vocals and instrumental also sound great as Kesha has always been one of the better vocalists in the pop landscape. Gag Order closes with some very minimalist production on “Happy”, which perfectly complements the track delving into how much of her life in the music industry Kesha would change in exchange for being happy, and how she’s still trying to make the best of the fucked up situation she’s been forced into.
‘There’s so many things I’d change but I can’t
There’s so many things I said that I wish I left unsaid
Time’s passing me by
Gotta just laugh so I don’t die
If you asked me then where I wanted to be
It’d look something like this
Living out my wildest of dreams
But life ain’t always what it seems
No, life got me falling to my knees’
It’s predictable, albeit extremely depressing, that pop audiences let one of the better pop albums of the year come and go. There was no marketing, no ‘visuals’ (because no one works at the record label besides one accountant and Doja Cat), and Kesha herself couldn’t talk about what most of the album was about with the legal battle still ongoing. On the bright side, it was the last album of Kesha’s contract she signed with Dr. Luke as an 18-year old and hopefully the creative and artistic steps shown here can continue in her next work now that the Gag Order has lifted.
The final quarter of this year has proven phenomenally busy, barricading me from listening to or writing about anything in the way of new music, really. I’ve read articles from EIN friends that stoked a relentless urge to review that I could not feasibly quell. What’s more, I’d hoped to get around to reviewing this particular album for months, ever since my pal and EIN veteran David dropped a thoroughly enjoyable Weekly Featured Artist article on Nashville’s Friendship Commanders just prior to the release of their latest record, MASS. I’d not heard the music of Buick Audra and accomplice Jerry Roe before, but have been a fervent listener since, as well as delving back to experience 2020’s HOLD ON TO YOURSELF.
MASS is heavy in a number of ways, something explored in great detail in the WFA. This piqued my interest both musically and emotionally, while breeding a touch of resentment towards myself for not being able to initiate a write-up of my own. However, they say that you make time for the things you love, so here I am finally getting to write about Friendship Commanders and MASS, even though it has been in our ears for a few months now. Why? Because I would hate to see such a great record of melodic rock become a permanently missed connection for any of you.
Now, to give something a name gives it tangible power. The moniker Friendship Commanders may appear contradictory at first: friendship cannot be commanded, surely? Rather, it grows and blossoms organically, fed by mutual respect, trust, communication, and loyalty (and many other factors). No friendship is impervious to harm, trial, or even outright collapse, mind you. Still, I’m not here to unpick my interpretations of friendship and social etiquettes, though you’ll find it to be at the heart of MASS. I will say that the true origin of the band’s name is an interesting tale involving a jacket and a connection made in the unlikeliest of ways – again, I refer you to Buick’s own rendition of the story.
Laying aside my arbitrary musings about the band’s intriguing name, I can at least attest to the ‘commanding’ properties on display across MASS. As a created outpouring of work experience, it’s full of contrast. It’s distorted, pounding, and direct in very literal ways, yet also melodic, softening, and symbolic. It compels you as a listener, and its core themes pull at the synapses as much as at the heart, hearkening to moments and memories that may well prove profoundly relatable as fellow citizens of the world in its current state. As Buick herself puts it, ‘As vulnerable and personal as the project is, it’s also an album about friendship (what it is and what it is not), identity, trying to stay alive when life makes that feel daunting, and finding ways to be free.’
That theme of commanding plays out strongly across MASS as the duo’s bold, metallic songs are presented to us with a real fire in their belly. Each one garners attention with ease through a musical concoction that paints highlights of ‘90s grunge and a little sludge onto the backdrop of melodic rock they create. Influenced in no small measure over the years by the likes of Soundgarden‘s Badmotorfinger and Alice In Chains, there’s a palpable presence of these formative sounds in the hulking riffs, thudding bass, and tight, expressive drum work that yields a more than fitting tribute without superficiality.
Then there’s Buick’s vocal performance, tying close to the towering riffs that dominate the landscape of MASS. There’s a raw thrust to her voice, calling passionately back, as before, to great female vocalists of days gone by: Poly Styrene, Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux – women at the forefront of punk (and its principles) – but also the likes of Brody Dalle and Skunk Anansie from more recent times. The commonality? They’re women who loudly (and rightly) shun the preposterous expectations, impositions, and restrictions placed on them by wider society. Channelling these creative forebearers in tune with her own experiences, Buick’s strength of voice and message is at times more subdued, but can most often be found reaching for its very limits. Notes are propelled unflinchingly to stratospheric heights of sustained intensity, cavernous in capacity but without ever crashing out. Buick audibly gives each song everything she’s got while retaining control even at the very brink of apparent collapse.
These vocals are combined with a musicality that is equally as powerful – crushing at times, even – but never domineering; the grooves are loud and designed to get you moving, but never extinguish the importance of the lyrical matter accompanying them. MASS is an invitation for listeners to embark on open roads with open minds in order to digest its weighty themes – to go places in multiple senses of the word. The album name itself was even partly chosen as a reference to the American state, entrenched once again in personal fibres of Buick’s life. It’s the sort of sound that beckons flailing limbs and sweat-drenched skin, of throwing yourself around and lifting up your voice, and the inevitable sense of cathartic release that follows such an explosion of energy.
As you follow the album along, you’ll hear everything I’ve spoken of and more, though I’m loathe to take too much away from the joy of discovering the details for yourself. “Blue” unveils sumptuous harmonies and thick distortion that is more swaddling than oppressive, whereas “Fail” is a little more dissonant in its charm. “We Were Here” and “High Sun” punch hard too, hauling out more harmonies and rooting themselves in grounded basslines that rumble before the visceral lyrical callout of “Vampire”. Each and every one of these entwines the ardent delivery of Buick’s singing with mammoth instrumentals that tear away without relent, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.
“Distortion” is aptly named, flaunting tints of that dense, grungy bite I spoke of earlier. It’s also a fine example of the unity between vocals and bass, as they reflect one other in synchronicity to deliver a double-whammy of tuneful hooks. This is done frequently throughout MASS, to great effect, and really drives home some of those powerhouse melodies. “A Retraction” is a curiosity of a track: as its opening riff and first verse unfold, we’re treated to one of the more ominous auditory vibes on MASS, then it expands into a chorus progression that seems rooted in arguably warmer waters. Then, “Move” perfectly encapsulates that aforementioned vocal grit, even throwing in an unexpected but wholly welcome key change. Dwelling on it now, those feel like a staple of a bygone era of rock music – one that has seemingly dwindled in usage now – which is a shame, given their general ability to heighten intensity and interaction from a crowd…but I digress.
At the album’s end, we are treated to an unexpected and thought-provoking serving of spoken word. Given what’s preceded it, “Dissonance” is utterly disarming, offering insights and further context into moments previously explored on MASS. It’s also yet another instance of Friendship Commanders being, well, commanding: it demands attention as Buick tenderly bears her heart and mind without the accompaniment of Jerry or anything beside her own voice. It’s a stark and enigmatic finish to the LP, for sure, and I would also compel you to seriously consider reading Buick’s accompanying memoir, which only enriches the experience of this record even further.
Ultimately, when it comes to MASS, friendship isn’t the only thing being commanded here. In the previous article, David alluded to a sense of camaraderie and familiarity borne from the trials and tempests, the uncertainties and unfulfillments that helped carve MASS into existence. I get that; I feel it too, though not for all the same reasons as my pal. Yet, as potent as that perceived sense of kinship is, a more simplistic but equally arresting quality lies at the heart of this record. There are no gimmicks here to bait you into listening – it stands firmly on the merits of excellent songwriting and boisterously enjoyable performances from a hugely talented duo. It’s an added bonus that when you drill deeper into the melodic rock of Friendship Commanders, you find a richness and relatability in the messages of MASS. Perhaps you’ll even find that it’s something to bolster you in your own times of turmoil: as Helen Keller once said, ‘Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.’