Despite a weekend of weird music writer discourse about newsletters (great bait for a newsletter topic), we return to my stated purpose: discussing an album from a while back that I’ve never heard and then discussing some new(ish) music I’ve really liked lately! This week it’s brilliant stuff from Laura Stevenson + Happy Accidents.
Laura Stevenson is an artist that I first heard about with any level of significance because my boyfriend had a playlist entitled “laura, kevin, evan” or something like that from a tour Laura Stevenson did with Kevin Devine and Into it. Over it. Then later an internet friend of mine, Kay Roman, recommended I listen to A Record after expressing a lot about how much she loves Laura’s music. Other friends raved about 2019’s The Big Freeze. Despite all of this raving recommendation, I always had a hard time connecting with it and finding an access point to her music.
But I’m no quitter and if I feel like there’s a way to enjoy a band’s music I can usually get there. When Don Giovanni announced they were re-releasing Sit Resist, an album I’d never heard or really heard my friends talk about, and Tim Crisp announced his new podcast was going to be focused on Laura Stevenson, I made the easy decision to make it a focus of my newsletter this week.
As with other bands and people within the similar scene of bands Laura Stevenson comes out of, it’s always been very clear to me that for some people she means a great deal. That New York scene is something that feels far removed from me but the love people have for it is something I find really beautiful.
The way the members of the bands involved talk about it is just as beautiful.
Something about Sit Resist immediately clicked with my brain. It feels like music I would have cherished as a teenager. I mean that as a great compliment. There’s something viscerally interesting to me in it. I’ve kept coming back to it all week, even when I wasn’t thinking about this piece I’m writing, and coming back to it in full.
The record starts with Halloween Pts. 1 & 2, a song bursting with layered vocals that works on the pure emotional power of Laura’s voice building to a full band introduction of what the rest of the album will feel like. The lyrics are sparse but I think the instrumentation and the way it builds work with that sparseness beautifully.
Master of Art takes on a more folky sound that shows up throughout the record. A song that strikes me as being about wanting to be happy and stable with somebody but not being able to promise anything. Or maybe that’s just what I’ve attributed. I don’t frequently like to assert that I think I know what songs are about, I don’t. And it doesn’t matter usually to my enjoyment. Peachy is my favorite song on the album and I have no clue what that song is about. I also find myself so preoccupied with her voice that I didn’t really take in lyrics until the sixth or seventh time through the album.
Caretaker is a song I have particular affection for. Maybe it’s because I’m moving away from the place I’ve lived for my entire life and have felt a dissonance with what I can achieve while being here versus a connection with it, but I think it’s perfect.
8:08’s description as a song about depression coming back after feeling like you’d have a handle on it forever is equally relatable to me. I like the positioning of it as what feels like a sad song while not being one of the quieter, more piano driven tunes (though I think the set up of the album as winding in and out of the quiet is what keeps it infinitely listenable for me).
I think something that strikes me as a particular achievement of Sit Resist is the poignancy of the title. A lot of the songs— Master of Art, Caretaker, Finish Piece, Red Clay Roots, Montauk Monster, The Wait— have these narratives of discomfort in where you are. In the description on Bandcamp she says the album is about running in place. The inability to get anywhere else— emotionally or physically.
I think I could feel that in the desperation and emotion of delivery or the sometimes comparative chaos of the instrumentation against her sterling voice even before I read any of the lyrics.
Throughout all of the record, I only feel myself being able to articulate the word bursting. Its depth of emotion and complexity set against an equally stunning landscape of sound is what draws me back to it but I have a hard time articulating what I’m actually feeling when I listen to it other than “A Lot”. I’ve been reading reviews of it from 2011 trying to find words for it and reading lyrics to find something more to say. Maybe that’s the power in it. Maybe that’s why I like it.
I came across a review of the album on Sputnik Music that I think is my favorite review I’ve ever read. It’s full of beautiful but still coherent language about why the author, Channing Freeman, loved it. It hits upon the same hard to place emotion I’ve been feeling about the album since my first listen and involves a greater discussion on how people love music.
Here’s an excerpt from that review:
I think maybe that's what life-affirming is supposed to mean - that some form of art can make you feel with such intensity that you feel like you're bursting, and you can't slow down long enough to pinpoint particular emotions. You're going in every direction at once, very fast and very far. It's all internal, of course. Circumstances don't actually change. The most music can ever do is act as a sort of painkiller, staving off reality for a little while longer. I think that now, but I haven't always. There are a lot of people for whom music is the be-all and end-all, and they will defend their tastes as vehemently as they would defend their own life. I don't mean to portray people like that in a negative light (I was one of them for a very long time), but I honestly think that people like that are missing something, that they can't truly enjoy the music that they say is their life. Getting your hackles up because someone defamed a band you love isn't passion. Passion for music is being able to shrug at someone and walk away when they defame a band you love, because you're secure in the fact that you love what you love and they love what they love and it's not worth discussing.
I’m happy to have Sit Resist around to stave off my reality and pull me into something that I guess I do think is worth discussing.
“Review Summary: Floating Urgently”
The reissue of Sit Resist is out 9/4 via Don Giovanni Records. Pre-order it here.
Listen to the “Life’s Work” a podcast from Better Yet focused on the making of Sit Resist. Tim Crisp is the best.
Back in May, London based indie punk perfect band Happy Accidents put out an album entitled Sprawling. Before that, they downsized to a two piece, now just consisting of Rich Mandell (producer of several beloved albums of mine) and Phoebe Cross (also of my favorite supergroup Cheerbleederz). They also parted ways with their old record label, Alcopop!, and elected to release the album themselves.
Both of those decisions feel immediately obvious. Compared to their previous releases, Sprawling is somehow both simpler and more lush. As always, Phoebe and Rich’s voices meld perfectly but against the lush, soft environment of Sprawling it turns it into an experience unlike that of the more poppy Everything But The Here and Now (2018) or You Might Be Right (2016).
Whole is a song that features Phoebe Cross’s stunning, haunting voice as a backing to Mandell’s spoken word. Simple piano and drums fill out the front half of the song until giving way to a beautifully built, darker track. The repetition of, “swallowed you whole” throughout gives me chills.
Second track, Secrets, might as well be a Seahaven song with dual vocals (in the best way). The light vocal haziness on Rich Mandell’s voice is a highlight, as is the riff through the verses. This song as it turns quite rocky makes clear a shift away from the frenetic pop of bands like The Spook School.
More of the songs are soft and pretty than I expected from them but I think creating a more intimate environment sonically reflects the more intimate way the album was created and I love it. It also highlights the pure vocal talent of Phoebe Cross in a way nothing else I’ve heard from their projects has.
Sparkling is my favorite track, I think. The warmth and swelling background does something to my heart that just consumes all of my attention when it plays.
I like this record the way I like Left and Leaving by The Weakerthans instead of the way I was expecting the like the record and that’s been a really wonderful experience to wash over me.
As always, I’d implore you to check out the awesome indie punk that’s coming out of the UK if you’re not already plugged into it. The related artists section on the Happy Accidents bandcamp is a good place to start.
Sprawling was released May 29th, 2020. You can listen + pre-order a vinyl copy here.
Miranda Reinert is a zine maker based in Chicago until the end of this month in which she will be a zine maker and law student based in Philadelphia. She is looking for friends. Follow me on Twitter for more on music and other garbage @mirandareinert. Thanks for reading!
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