Band/Artist Profile

Comparing Boygenius

The three members of Boygenius sit posed for a publicity image
(Left to Right) Lucy Dacus, Pheobe Bridgers, Julien Baker

Boygenius is probably the biggest thing in indie right now. Not the actual band, who only released one ep in 2018, but the members. Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker; these three 25-year-old queer white women from L.A. via the upper south have come to dominate indie rock in the waning days of the genre’s relevance. Thanks to the release of Baker’s “Little Oblivions,” in February, we now have one full studio album released by each of the band members after their collective breakthrough with Boygenius. The cultural influence of these women is only widening (a friend of a friend at UNC Ashville just got a Phoebe Bridgers tattoo…) so it’s worth looking at their music, how they are similar, and why they’re different.


Julien Baker was the most established of the group by far coming into the release of Boygenius. Having released two albums and been signed to Matador, she had several accolades under her belt. Her sophomore album “Turn Out the Lights” charted well, and received good reviews from most major publications. Her musical style has also seen the most change following her association with the other two artists. Initially, Baker’s music was strictly one woman and a guitar, but her latest work sees her working with a full studio baking band similar to her contemporaries. This was a great relief to me personally, as I found the stripped-back style of her early albums a little tiresome. In a probable effort to shed the persona of “Sober, queer, Christian,” her latest album has been characterized as a concept album about her struggles with faith. This conflicted spirituality and struggle with tradition is a consistent through-line to Baker’s work. She’s also the most, for lack of a better word, literate of her peers. She has been published in academic journals, literary magazines, and her backup career was becoming an English teacher. This background helps Baker’s more restrained and refined lyrics shine through with a kind of classical appeal. Her poetry aspires to the heights of the Bronte sisters, rather than rock stardom.


Phoebe Bridgers is, in many ways, Baker’s opposite. Where Baker was well established and restrained, Bridgers had just debuted the year prior and saw a meteoric rise in popularity after joining the group. Her 2020 album “Punisher” has racked up three Grammy nominations and ranked among the best albums of the year in many listings. Her lyrical style has been characterized as emo folk, both as a compliment and as an insult. The music is passionate, straightforward, and unapologetically personal, discussing her relationship with her family, friends, and romantic partners. This makes Bridgers’ music the most accessible, and she has a devoted fanbase of young women and queer people who look up to her. In cultivating this fanbase, Bridger’s has created a more public life than the other members, sharing deeply personal stories of family conflicts, sexual assault, and mental health struggles. If any one of these women is likely to make a break for mainstream stardom, it’s Bridgers.


Lucy Dacus is somewhat more versatile than her peers. Unlike the contemporary indie-folk of Bridgers and Baker, she styles herself something of a rock star, and the aesthetic suits her well. Her voice is by far the most powerful of the three, capable of hitting meteoric highs and contralto lows with ease. She also plays electric guitar as her native instrument. Her lyrical range is large as well, hitting styles like badass dad rock, straightforward love songs, and even flirting with country music. This makes Dacus something of a wild card, as she’s capable of changing her entire energy mid-album or even mid-song. She’s also my personal favorite of Boygenius, so I may be a little biased, and yes, I have screamed “Night Shift” at the top of my lungs at the three in the morning… multiple times.

Band/Artist Profile Concert Review

Amythyst Kiah Profile & Concert Review

Tennessee Singer Amythyst Kiah released her new single “Black Myself” this year and it made some serious waves. The song is strong and serves as a mission statement for Kiah’s work so far. “They stare at me when I pick up the banjo because I’m black myself.” It’s a striking lyric. A black woman ostracized for playing an instrument of African origin associated with white culture. Amythyst Kiah is on the come-up, and I actually had the opportunity to see her live in Raleigh before the world ended. So let’s take the time to get to know this bold new talent.

Black Country/folk singers are in vogue right now, but the genre still has enormous barriers to entry for artists of color, and doubly so for a gay black woman working in the most traditional styles of folk music. However, there’s more to Kiah than just the novelty of a black bluegrass enthusiast. She also has songwriting chops and a voice to match the heavyweights of indie. Her music checks all the boxes for indie folk: deeply personal lyrics, complex guitar arrangements, a smoky beautiful voice. But it’s her influences that set her apart, drawing from old time folk, country, and blues more than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Her live shows are an engaging, if low-key, experience. Eschewing theatrics or hype, Kiah invites the listener into her world, sharing stories and the songwriting process. She creates an authentic experience, rather than a strictly entertaining one. Her band also seems to workshop her new material extensively on the road. She played “Black Myself,” in late 2019 when I saw her live, more than a year before its release as a single, and the song has seen some fairly significant structural changes since then. When the world finally opens back up, I recommend her show for anyone seeking a more relaxed and understated concert experience.

Miscellaneous Short Stories

The Tori Amos X Trent Reznor Conspiracy

“Tori Amos” by krissikes is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

I was making my way through the crazy world of Tori Amos, and I noticed something weird. She kept making Nine Inch Nails references. She name-dropped the band, their album titles, etc. Puzzled, I checked the Wikipedia page for “Under Big Pink,” and realized Trent Reznor was credited with backing vocals on the album’s sole love song. How did these two artists from opposite ends of the music world come together? Little did I know I was about to get pulled into a mostly joking conspiratorial tale of hatred, (Courtney) love, and one of the funniest celebrity duos on earth. There are multiple blogs devoted to laying out these absurd stories, but the one I found most entertaining was this article’s namesake: The Tori and Trent Conspiracy. If you have a spare hour to read this and the other blogs linked, I highly encourage you to go on that journey, but if not, I’ll hit the highlights here.

“20090609 – Nine Inch Nails – Trent Reznor (singing) – (by Elizabeth Bouras) – 3616038356_eeb5ef594e_o” by Claire CJS is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

So, let’s lay out the Dramatis Personae, shall we: Trent Reznor, creator and sole member of industrial rock’s breakthrough band: Nine Inch Nails. Perpetually miserable and probably a danger to polite society. Next, Newton, NC’s own Tori Amos. Classical pianist, songwriter, godmother of 90s chick-rock, weirdest redneck hippie witch-woman alive. And finally… Courtney Love. Okay look, I’m probably one of the last seven people on earth who actually likes Love, but even I have to admit that if you listen to more than a few stories from artists who knew her, she comes off as kind of the archvillain of 90s rock. No, she did not kill Kurt Cobain. Yes, her band is better than Nirvana (Come at me). Yes, she is a female version of the villain archetype on Ru Paul’s drag race. Everyone on the same page? Too bad, the story is starting anyways.

Tori and Trent

Tori Amos and Trent Reznor report admiring one other’s music long before meeting. This is a little weird, considering Tori Amos is a progressive pop singer a la Kate Bush, and Trent Reznor is a screaming nutjob a la the Butthole Surfers (real band NIN toured with), but it’s true. There are some shared themes between them though: both are unreservedly confessional lyricists, and they both really like pretending to be Jesus. Apparently, Trent Reznor reached out to say he loved “Little Earthquakes,” and a friendship was born.

Both musicians have given numerous accounts of their relationship, some seemingly contradictory, but all accounts of their friendship are bound together by being just absolutely hilarious. Amos seems to think of herself as a surrogate mother figure for Reznor, saying that she thinks he would be a lot less angry all the time if he had some more nurturing. To quote from Spin magazine’s interview with Amos, “What Trent Really needs is a blanky and a hot chocolate with marshmallows. He doesn’t need another hole to crawl in. I think someone should give him one of those little hard hats with a miner’s light on it, so when he gets lost in a dark hole, he can find his way out.” This is obviously VERY funny if you’re familiar with any of Reznor’s work, but it pales in comparison to “The Chicken Incident,” where Amos, upon visiting Reznor in the house of the Manson murders (which Reznor had rented out because you know, of course he had), spontaneously forgot how to cook chicken. She was going to make him dinner because, in her words, “He just looks so anorexic sometimes. I just look at him and go, baby, you need my cooking honey.” But on this fateful evening, she couldn’t as much as fry a chicken. This incident was apparently so scarring to the born southerner that she called her mother on the spot to ask her why she had just ruined a dish that she had been making for 20 years. Her mother, either a witch, a master comedian, or both, told her solemnly that ever since the Folger’s coffee heiress died in the Sharon Tate house, there has been a curse against anything culinary on the premises. No wonder Trent Reznor is so angry all the time, celebrity ghosts keep ruining his food.

The Conspiracy

So, what’s this about a conspiracy, and where does Courtney Love come into all this? Well, that’s where this objectively delightful story takes a turn for the tabloids, and I don’t totally feel comfortable repeating some of the things Bizarre Love Triangles or even some actual news sites say about the matter. I’ve linked the blog’s crazed spirals of conspiracy if you want to hear them yourself. But, to summarize, Tori and Trent’s relationship falls apart, according to Reznor, because of “Some malicious meddling on the part of Courtney Love.” This is a little confusing given Love and Amos have ostensibly never met, but Courtney has maintained that she had a romantic relationship with Reznor briefly, something Reznor denies. This has led to speculation about Love’s motives, and the precise nature of Reznor and Amos’ relationship, as well as lyrical analysis of songs Amos, in her own words, had “allegedly written” about Reznor. The blog also goes the extra mile to rope in every major 90s alt-rock star in the process. It’s a wild ride, but don’t take any of it too seriously.

So… what does all this tell us, other than to not make chicken on the site of a brutal murder? Well, I guess if I must make a closing remark it would be that genre is a fickle thing, and sometimes artists from opposite worlds can have some common ground. Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls fame wrote an interesting article about the two of them if you want an introduction, and if you like one, but haven’t heard of the other, give them a listen, you might find something new.

Classic Album Review

Classic Review: Soviet Kitsch by Regina Spektor

A smirking Regina Spektor drinks vodka amid a background of Russian nesting dolls on the album cover of Soviet Kitsch

Regina Spektor has gotten the short end of the stick in terms of early 2000’s indie. While her contemporaries like Amanda Palmer and Fiona Apple have developed a ride-or-die fanbase, Spektor is probably best known today for… writing the theme song for Orange Is the New Black? Don’t get me wrong, that theme song is one of the best things about an already good show, but there is so much more to Spektor’s music than just a killer pop song, so let’s look at one of her weirdest and most endearing albums “Soviet Kitsch.”

“Soviet Kitsch,” is, at its heart, a set of piano ballads. A simple form that makes an excellent showcase for just how freaking strange this woman is. She grunts, coos, belts, oohs, and ahs her way through almost every song on the tracklist, weaving these vocal ticks in with melodies organically to entrancing effect.

Her skills as a pianist are equally singular (indulge this classical piano-loving nerd for a moment if you will). She plays the usual notes of her songs in the most unusual of ways. The chords form familiar progressions, but she accentuates them with unexpected dynamic changes and staccato hits on off beats. The notes come not as a smooth melody, but as a flurry, unlocking the percussive potential of her instrument in ways Fiona Apple wouldn’t until last year.

However, for all its musical strengths, the true value of Soviet Kitsch is in the lyrics. Spektor takes her background as a Russian immigrant as a perspective, not subject matter. She frames familiar topics from the unique Eastern-bloc worldview that will be familiar to anyone who has had an extended conversation with an older Russian person. Social issues we think of as trite and incomprehensible- refusing treatment for cancer, nostalgia for a long-gone political order- are portrayed empathetically, though not always flatteringly, by a woman caught between two worlds. The lyrics find old ways of saying new things; classical forms used for subversive ends.

Band/Artist Profile Miscellaneous

What Yoko Ono Can Tell Us About Indie Music

Yoko Ono posing for a publicity image in all black
Yoko at 88

I think most people are ready to admit that Yoko Ono is not the worst person to ever exist. There may be a few of us still clinging to the notion that she was a talentless harpy that broke up the best band ever, but this narrative is out of favor. Even the most traditionalist rock publications (Rolling Stone, Ultimate Classic Rock, etc.) have accepted her into music history, putting out lists of her top songs and best albums. To more liberal presses, she’s become something of an icon. In this narrative, she was an artistic genius victimized by a misogynistic hate mob who resented her avant-garde influence on John Lennon.

There has also been a growing interest in Ono’s music as influential. In 1970, avant-garde music was a strictly classical business. Experimentation was a right reserved to “serious music” and while Stockhausen, Schoenberg, and Cage were celebrities in a certain realm, they were not recording artists, and their influence did extend to pop. Ono was, for many people, their introduction to experimental music. A generation of musicians cited her as an inspiration, from pop music weirdos like the B-52s or Talking Heads to underground celebrities like William Bennet and Meredith Monk.

From indie blogs to the Grammy’s, the press is ready to admit that Ono is important, but they seem hesitant to discuss any of the actual music Ono released. Critics have either focused on her more typical rock releases or simply avoid discussing her music altogether. The New York Times ran a fawning piece defending the place of challenging music that made no reference to any of her actual songs or albums. When Pitchfork reviewed her back catalog, they concluded that her experimental albums were less ambitious and less than her experimental work. When critics dare write less favorable reviews, the assumptions about Ono come into much sharper focus. A Collegiate Times review of her music referred to her 2018 album Warzone as “a stupendously pretentious assemblage of avant-garde schlock,” that “Continues [a] career of meritless prominence.”

What confuses me most about the critical apathy (and occasional antipathy) towards Ono’s music is that it does not extend to music that is clearly influenced by her work. Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Bjork, even Fiona Apple- you don’t have to look far to find popular music that imitates Ono’s vocal style. On the instrumental side of things, it’s easy to imagine a track off of Yoko’s 1971 album “Fly” on a Throbbing Gristle or Captain Beefheart album. All of these musicians are critically adored, and their music is analyzed in great detail, especially their more experimental albums. So why do critics seem so eager to talk around the music of Yoko Ono?

To answer this question, I think it’s helpful to consider how Ono arrived in popular music. While Ono was a celebrated visual artist prior to meeting John Lennon, her marriage to the ex-Beatle meant that before she had even recorded an album, she was probably the fourth most famous artist alive (sorry Ringo), and was able to bypass a lot of music industry gatekeeping as a result. We expect avant-garde music to occur at the fringes, to always be underrated or someone obscure, and we expect prominent musicians to always make music accessible to a wide audience. The Collegiate Times review I quoted earlier makes this explicit, saying that, “‘Warzone’ is simply the latest piece in a long career of failing to reach the heights of an avant-garde frontier of music in hopes of reaching the hearts of people around the world.” The claim that Yoko is trying to reach a mass audience flies in the face of the music itself. Her first two albums are, to put it literally, 45 minutes of a woman wailing over elephant noises. Even her more accessible projects like “Warzone” are still leagues away from the mainstream. Her music clearly has no interest in appealing to a general audience, but because she is famous and on a major label, these expectations are put on her.

The frustrating thing about critical interpretations of Ono’s music, at least to me, isn’t that people don’t like her music- I’m only lukewarm on most of it myself- but that she would receive far different reception were she not a household name. Critical attitudes of popular music have warmed considerably in the last 20 years, but this reevaluation has only extended to the aesthetics of popular music, not to the underlying mechanics. Popular music may be acknowledged as good “in its own way” but it isn’t given equal billing with so-called “serious music.” Yoko Ono is just a little too famous to be taken seriously as an avant-garde artist. Instead, she must be analyzed only in terms of her effects, as the New York Times did, or, as in the case of the Pitchfork review, she must be spun as actually secretly having been a pop musician this whole time. We are still brought up with the deep-seated hipster belief that popular culture is inherently the lowest common denominator. Successful, famous artists like Ono that challenge this narrative are deeply threatening to magazines that make their name by denoting what gets to be taken seriously and what is pop culture trash. She proves that people have wider tastes than they are often given credit for, that fans of independent music are not quite as special as we think we are.

It’s impressive when you think about it, half a century later and Yoko Ono is still scary.

Music News and Interviews

Black Dresses Are Back?

An album cover with a fiery peace sign over a green field

Canadian Noise Pop duo Black Dresses released the album Peaceful As Hell early last year, their most bold and entrancing album yet, and almost immediately thereafter broke up the band. Citing a wave of harassment and privacy violations occurring after one of their songs became a TikTok hit, they announced an end to the band for the sake of their mental health. It was sad, but not surprising. Fan’s demands upon creator’s personal lives are at a fever pitch, and it’s understandable that some artists wouldn’t want in. Two albums, that’s all we get and it’s more than we deserve.

Last Tuesday, the band put out the following statement on Twitter, “We’re no longer a band, unfortunately. Regardless we’ve decided to keep releasing music.” The surprise announcement was accompanied by a new album, titled Forever In Your Heart. They gave no follow-up explanation, but have spent the last couple of days aggressively retweeting fan art.

Well, that all seems clear enough, and I don’t think anyone is complaining about more Black Dresses. The album was also likely created in their post-breakup period, meaning there’s possibly more to come. There are multiple quasi-references to the invasive pressure of fan culture, and some songs that feel tailor-made to this, the eleventh month of quarantine, including one about living in a concrete bubble that feels especially prescient. The album is possibly their best yet, I’ll spare you a full review and just recommend you check it out for yourself on Bandcamp. It’s full of hyper-pop meets thrash ragers that are as infectious as they are miserable. Black Dresses are infectious misery, and I mean that in the best way possible.

New Album Review

Album Review: I’ve Seen All I Need to See

An album cover featuring macabre imagery

New harsh noise music is hard to come by, and it’s even harder to find noise that’s worth your time, but praise be, The Body have come through. The Providence, Rhode Island duo have been minor celebrities in noise and metal communities for a while, and they have moved through numerous styles in the nearly 20 years since their debut. Their 2016 album No One Deserves Happiness, is a favorite of mine for its absolutely bonkers incorporation of dance and art-pop elements into their barren hellscape of a sound, and genre enthusiasts assure me that some of their metal-oriented stuff is good as well, though I personally don’t care for it.

This new album, however, is something altogether more primal and terrifying. Going back to power electronic basics is kind of the noise artist equivalent of an indie rock band putting out a folk album, or of Taylor Swift releasing an indie project, and accordingly, these albums usually get listened to by a handful of fans before moving on to the next major release. I’ve Seen All I Need to See breaks this mold, taking a cold, unpleasant sound palate and deepening it into a genuinely moving experience. There aren’t bombastic highs, like on some of their albums, and there aren’t really dredging lows either, instead, the album asks you to just sit with for an hour or so and take it in. Slowly, the rough grimy exterior slips into something melancholic and wistful. Distorted synth tones feel almost melodic and the distance scream becomes a gentle descant. For a genre with an all too limited range, this album is awfully subtle, and you could attach a host of different emotions to it. Anger, loneliness, even something more uplifting, the choice is yours.

This album won’t be for everyone, noise music is an acquired taste at the best of times, usually because of its abrasion, but in this case more because of the slow burn, instrumental feel. However, if you like noise, ambient, drone, or even more lowkey metal artists like Sun O))) I’d recommend this release, there’s a reward for your patience down in there somewhere.

ALBUM: “I’ve Seen All I Needed to See” by The Body


LABEL: Trill Jockey

RATING: 7/10

Band/Artist Profile

Artist Profile: Grace Jones

A black woman poses holding a revolver
Grace Jones posing for the James Bond film A View to Kill

A few weeks ago, when I was doing my first DJ shift for the Spring semester, I got a call on the hotline requesting I play a song by Grace Jones. I didn’t recognize the name, but never one to turn down a request, I pulled up a song called “Pull up to the Bumper,” and hit play. What came out of the speakers stumped me for categorization. It was clearly dance music, but there was an edge to the guitars that reminded me more of punk, and it was capped off with just an instantly recognizable vocal performance. What I didn’t know then was that I was about to be pulled into a crazy world of one of the iconic divas of the era.

Grace Jones started out as a fashion model and got her break as a disco singer in the 70s. She only achieved minor success, and while dance music seemed like a safe investment in 1977, the anti-disco backlash would take out her hopes of being the next Donna Summers. She, and a whole lot of artists like her, needed to find a new career, and fast. Jones would find her route in one of the strangest career moves possible… she went punk. Now I don’t mean this to sound like Jones took a turn towards the Dead Kennedys, in fact, her music remained fairly danceable. The correct term for it sonically is probably New Wave, but her music adopted a rebellious and challenging air that sets her apart from the likes of Duran Duran or even Blondie. Always gender-bending in her fashion career, Jones became outright androgynous, trending towards masculine both in her appearance and her vocals. She also blended in more influence from her home country of Jamaica, working with the then-obscure Reggae duo Sly and Robbie.

Her 1980 album Warm Leatherette consists entirely of covers, but they’re drawn from such a variety of artists and so warped that despite knowing several of the songs, I initially assumed they were written for Jones. She covers Smokey Robinson, Tom Petty, and industrial synthpunk act The Normal, a collection of artists so unlike each other they might as well be drawn randomly out of a hat. Despite this eclectic taste, the album is extremely coherent, brought together by the sheer tour de force that is Jones’ vocal style. Later albums would see her move back into dance music and incorporate more elements from her home country of Jamaica. But she would never lose the weird edge that makes her such a unique musician.

What surprised me the most about Jones’ life, more than her music, her appearance, anything, was how successful she was at the time. While she wasn’t quite a household name, she had several hit songs, and such an alien woman would have certainly made an impression on the public. So why isn’t Jones a better-remembered singer? While she’s hardly obscure, there aren’t nearly as many articles about her as I expected, and I’ve never seen a music critic or magazine reference her in regard to the myriad artists that take inspiration, knowingly or otherwise, from her aesthetic.

Part of this is a general bias against artists who don’t fit a movement or genre well. While everyone knows artists like David Bowie or Blondie, genre-blurring artists without a massive catalog of hits can get short shrift in a music press obsessed with microgenres and local music scenes. Her race is probably also a factor. White America was extremely hostile to black music in the time between disco and Prince, and punk rock is one of the whitest genres around. But regardless of the reason her notoriety has faded, I hope you will take time out of your day to check out this early goddess of dance-punk.

Classic Album Review

Album Review: What The Heck Is This And Why Did I Download It Edition

If you are anything like me, the organization process on your music streaming app is a little chaotic. My YouTube music library is split into more tabs and sections than I know what to do with, and it’s not uncommon for me to completely forget what an album or video was supposed to be before I even listen to it. I always cherish these little mix-ups because they give me the opportunity to click play on something without the faintest preconception of what’s on the other side. Usually, I remember where I encountered an album after the first couple of songs, but this time… I’ve got to admit I’m stuck. This album has been on my phone for the better part of 8 months, and out of some masochistic exercise in music writing, I’ve decided to forgo any investigation as to what is or where it came from before writing this article.

So, what is “Suzanne Ciani – Buchla concerts 1975 (full album)?” Well, I’m not quite sure, but I know I like it.  The album is entirely electronic, and as such I assume it must have been at the very forefront of synthesizer technology, considering the sheer range of sound presented on it. It’s also clear that Ciani has a great deal of musical talent, in addition to her technological knowledge, because despite being almost entirely atonal, the songs have a clear progression and resonance that is rare even among the best avant-garde musicians. The songs have structure, they have an emotional impact, and judging by the recording, they were consistent and planned enough to be reproducible in concert. They aren’t mere technical demonstrations or conceptual pieces, they were crafted. This puts Ciani a flying leap ahead of her contemporaries, obvious comparison points like Steve Reich and Wendy Carlos were yet to really make the leap into fully electronically compositions. Reich was, at that time, just layering electronic sounds in procedural ways, while Carlos was playing Bach pieces on a synthesizer and calling it a day.

It would appear that Ciani was also had a great deal of influence on the course of electronic music. The more aggressive moments in this are reminiscent of the noise and power electronic bands that were to come. Had she come onto the scene a few years later, Ciani could have been a musical match for Merzbow or Prurient. She also has a great deal of classical appeal, which judging by the short audience interludes on this album, was her target demographic then. If you have any interest in these genres, or just want to take a blind leap into something altogether strange and exciting, I highly recommend this album. And if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to google this women’s name so I can find out the many dumb mistakes and obvious oversights I made in writing this article.

-Aidan Farmer