Miscellaneous Playlists

How to: Mental Health

Some days, things are just going bad. Sometimes, we know the root of that cause, sometimes we just feel unlucky. Sometimes, there hasn’t even been anything bad that’s happened, we just feel awful.

In the moment, it can be near impossible to ignore the emotional reality that you’re experiencing. It’s difficult to fix problems that do exist and matter when you’re having a rough time.

I’m putting this collection of tips out there for those days when things just seem to be going badly. It’s difficult to know when to seek help, or even if you need help, but it is easy to know that this might not be the greatest of days.

A lot of this article was inspired by Sinope’s Tumblr post, “Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay: questions to ask before giving up.”

Things you can do right now

Eating healthy and drinking water regularly are both extremely helpful for your mental health. Even if the food you’re eating isn’t perfectly “healthy”, having balanced meals with carbs, fats, and proteins in some capacity can help a lot. If you don’t feel like you can prepare a meal, eat some mixed nuts with whatever bread products you have access to. Maybe eat a banana or some grapes with it.

On that note, buying foods that can be prepared in bulk ahead of time can be quite helpful in alleviating the stress of making a meal in the moment. Additionally, try to at least drink a water bottle’s worth of water a day. Fill a reusable water from the tap or a Brita filter if you have it, or just grab a plastic water bottle.

Take a shower if you’re at home. Don’t worry about how long you’re in there or how hot the water is, just keep the temperature comfortable and get clean.

Likewise, dress into some clean clothes if you haven’t gotten dressed today. It gets you out of the tired mindset that being in pajamas may put you in, giving you more energy during the day.

Things you can do with and without people

If you haven’t really interacted with people, especially friends or family yet today, try to meet up with them, even if it’s just for an hour or two. If you can’t meet in person, text or call them. Don’t worry about getting work done during this time. Ask for a hug from friends or family if you’re comfortable. This doesn’t necessarily apply if those people are part of the reason you’re not doing that great.

If you’ve spent large chunks of the day around people, even friends or family, take some alone time. Play around with hobbies, whether it be knitting, playing video games, or programming. Sit down with a show or a movie.

Hell, watch Tiktok or Youtube to unwind for a bit, though try to limit these to an hour or so.

Things you can do to be active

Exercise also helps your mental health greatly. People who do a lot of intellectual or emotional labor may find exercise especially helpful. If you have access to a gym, take your pick of what activity you want to do, whether it be strength exercises, swimming, or walking/running on a treadmill.

Personally, I’ve found lifting weights to relieve my mind of stress, since all of my focus is on physical exertion.

Going outside in any capacity is probably the most helpful piece of advice I could possibly give here. Whether you go on a walk, sit on a bench for a while, or run around for a bit, these all tend to be more beneficial to your mental health than staying inside. If you have access, go to a local trail through the woods.

I cannot stress enough how rejuvenating a nature walk like this can be. Green spaces more generally are also relaxing compared to dense urban environments.

How music can help

Music tends to be prevalent through all parts of my life. I use it to highlight pleasant moments and relieve negative moments. There’s a number of different types of music that I tend to gravitate towards when I’m struggling with a variety of things, and I want to share those here in the hopes that they help others.

Healing – In Love With a Ghost

Music video for “Healing” by In Love With a Ghost

In Love With a Ghost is probably my most played artist when I’m having a bad day. Their lo-fi, bedroom pop sound allows listeners to let their thoughts drift away as they listen. Their music is perfect for those times when you might not know exactly why you’re sad or upset, just that you are.

Pills & Good Advice – Left at London

Lyric video for “Pills & Good Advice” by Left at London

On the contrary, sometimes I just need to vent my emotions until I’m satisfied. When I feel wronged, especially by someone I know well, I tend to come back to Left at London’s music. Her album “t.i.a.p.f.y.h” is phenomenal for giving me something to sing my heart out to in the car. Songs like “Pills & Good Advice” give me the perfect opportunity to feel like I have closure over some bad event that’s already finished.

Meant to Be – SAFFRA

Official audio for “Meant to Be” by SAFFRA

Other times, the most helpful music is that which will get me back into the swing of things. “Meant to Be” is the debut single from SAFFRA, and it rides the line between positive energy and low-key relaxation perfectly. Its long solos in the middle of the song provide a wonderful chance to just close your eyes, sit back, and let the music wash over you. I tend to use this (and songs like it) after artists like Left at London to get myself back into the swing of things.

LAW OF AVERAGES – Vince Staples

Music video for “LAW OF AVERAGES” by Vince Staples

Sometimes, all I need from music is to have a soft, somewhat depressing tone to stew in my emotions for a while. Unlike Left at London’s invigorating, aggressive attitude, Vince Staples sounds more low-key, as if he’s having a serious, emotional conversation with listeners. This sentiment is especially true on his last two albums: “RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART” and “Vince Staples”. I especially recommend his music if you’ve had a rough day at work and you’re driving home.

Music Education

On Musical Elitism: Indie and Institutional

“Oh, I only listen to real music. You wouldn’t get it. I’m so individualistic and nobody else shares my taste in music.”

At all points in history has there been some form of elitism in music. Often, it is fueled by racism, classism, and other forms of discrimination, especially by the dominant forces in the music industry. However, there has also been a counter-elitism among people who listen to less mainstream artists for the past few decades that has seemed to become more prevalent since the 2000s.

Since I’m centering this discussion around music in the US, which is predominantly English-speaking, I will refrain from discussing music in other languages. It’s cool to see latin music and K-pop becoming popular in the English-speaking US over the past decade, however.

Racism in the Music Industry

Black artists have consistently been the ones to bring innovations to music in the US, from rock to hip-hop to jazz. Even pop music (considering pop as a genre) has its foundations in music created and innovated on by Black artists. As a result, Black artists are often somewhat overrepresented on music charts, and rightfully so.

Famous jazz musician Charles Mingus. Photo Courtesy of Tom Marcello, under Creative Commons.

From 2012 to 2020, they represented 38% of all artists on the Billboard top 200. However, they are consistently overlooked for awards like the Grammys, receiving only 26.7% of nominations over the same period. Much of this discrimination comes from the overwhelming lack of people of color as executives in the music industry: only 4.2% are Black.

Additionally, many of the most notable “snubs” in the Grammys over the past decade or so have been against Black artists. Despite now having the most Grammy wins of any artist, Beyoncé has only one win in the Big Four categories. So, why do programs like the Grammys continue to be so popular, even though discrimination continues to be so prevalent?

I believe there are two predominant reasons: hope for better and ignorance of these issues in the first place. There are many people who likely hold onto the hope that this year will be the year that the music industry reverses course on its racist tendencies. I think there are even more who don’t notice these issues at all–or don’t care–since they aren’t affected.

How Music Bros Shape the Conversation

However, this lack of representation extends beyond institutional practices. Fans of independent music online tend to be white, financially comfortable men. Some of these listeners tend to obsess over classical music, especially the music that has overwhlemingly shaped the contemporary, western understanding of music theory, though that is worthy of its own discussion.

Logo for
Logo of

Most of the rest of these indie music fans tend to congregate on platforms like Rate Your Music and music-related social media groups. These are the places where I see the most elitism in music among people who hold no actual power over record labels or other parts of the music industry. Here, elitism comes through in the form of gatekeeping of up-and-coming artists as well as discriminatory biases.

On the all-time best album chart on Rate Your Music, Black artists comprise about 25% of the 50 top albums. Again, this percentage is well below the representation of Black artists on the Billboard top 200. More striking, though, is the lack of women and queer artists in these communities. On that same chart, only three of the top 50 albums have female vocalists (where gender is most noticeable), and the first, Björk, is only 31st. There are only three openly queer artists in the top 100 albums, and only two in the top 50.

Why is the Non-Mainstream Music Discussion Like This?

I bring these numbers up, because I think elitism in these types of music circles is largely predicated on the belief that mainstream listeners, especially women, will “ruin” the music. These listeners also tend to have a suspiciously high overlap with “incel” groups. The resulting misogyny (and queerphobia) leads to generally less respect for women and queer artists. Unless these artists are accepted into the “canon” of great artists they are largely neglected. As a side note, no female queer artists or trans artists until Big Thief at no.398.

There tends to be a lot of talk among these types of music listeners, especially over the past few years, about how Tiktok and other platforms are “ruining” music. When a song by an artist commonly accepted amongst these listeners as a “great” goes viral, they lament about how they can’t enjoy the music anymore. These listeners think that their interpretation of good music is the best interpretation, and any attempt to break the gatekeeping of these artists is a tragedy.

Likewise, these listeners often disdain music that gets especially popular for similar reasons. Artists like Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, or Bad Bunny have been seen as “trashy pop” only liked by teenage girls and people who don’t really “get” music like these white men in their mid-20s.

It’s okay to not like popular artists because you don’t vibe with their sound or genre. As for myself, I don’t typically listen to any of the three artists I just listed, but I still enjoy Swift’s music. I listen to a lot of Beyonce or The Weeknd. That doesn’t mean I don’t also love music by lesser known artists.

Closing Thoughts

WKNC is a radio station that prides itself on playing music by less popular artists, especially those whose voices are often left out of discussions of what “the best” music is. I hope that this mindset is able to spread farther than the idea that men (especially white, cisgender, heterosexual men) overwhlemingly make better music. And this should extend to what the music industry chooses to become popular as well.

–DJ Cashew

Classic Album Review

Avantdale Bowling Club: A Review

Avantdale Bowling Club’s self-titled debut album is a wonderfully produced jazz project led by New Zealand rapper Tom Scott. The band’s name refers to Scott’s hometown of Avondale, New Zealand. Much of this album “was creatively fueled by a stint living in Melbourne” where Scott seemed to mature some from his previous projects.

“Water Medley”

Photo courtesy of Pedro Szekely, under Creative Commons

“Avantdale Bowling Club” can best be described as a leisurely stroll through struggle. With an average song length of 6.5 minutes, each track meanders around looking for a place to settle. Each track feels loose and free to evolve as it pleases. That effect gets amplified by Tom Scott’s rapping, which disregards the need for a consistent beat on tracks like “Pocket Lint”.

Instead, Scott’s vocals often float through the instrumentals, not trying to find a sound to anchor to. The jazz melody plays as if Scott weren’t even there, resulting in a lively, yet mellow sound to contrast Scott’s melancholic voice.

This flow is contrasted somewhat through tracks like “Water Medley”, which is a nine minute collection of multiple smaller songs centered around water. Here, jazz is combined with heavy hip-hop beats to create a more original sound. This influence helps reinforce Scott’s primary objective with this album, which is to tell the story of his life’s misfortunes and struggles.

Poverty is a Fiend

“Avantdale Bowling Club” is a tale of the trappings of living paycheck to paycheck with a child while coping with alcohol and drugs. This sentiment comes through incredibly clear on “Pocket Lint”, which is essentially Scott ranting about not having enough money to live. However, he never feels like he’s repeating himself because of how well he pieces together different issues that come from low-income in the city.

The price of the life, the price of death
The price of gas, the price of meth, the side effect of stress

Lyrics from “Pocket Lint” by Avantdale Bowling Club

Scott’s rap flow is what really brings the album together, though. Probably the best example of his talents comes in the last verse, where you can’t help but bob your head along to his lyrics. Likewise, “F(r)iends” is where emotion comes through most, making it the most intriguing of any track. The song is a remembrance of both the good and bad times Scott had with one of his friends through drugs before he committed suicide. The emotional weight of this track encourages Scott to put on his best performance as a result.

Concluding Thoughts

Unfortunately, not all of the album is as memorable as the tracks discussed here. The back half of the album lacks direction, as if Scott only had a couple different things he was able to discuss in his music that lasted four or five songs. “Quincy’s March” is more hopeful than other tracks, but lacks any distinctive sound from the rest of the album.

“Tea Break” seems like an instrumental track that Scott originally meant to rap over, but simply lacked the material to turn into a full song.I still have the best songs on “Avantdale Bowling Club” on repeat often, but I rarely come back for the rest of the album for these reasons.

Rating: 6.5/10

— DJ Cashew

New Album Review

“Heavy Heavy” – Young Fathers: A Review

Young Fathers is a Scottish indie rock trio that I’ve been following for a bit now. Their newly released album, “Heavy Heavy” is exemplary of the group’s creative spirit, and it’s one of the more unique projects I’ve heard so far in 2023. Despite the name, the album tries to bring with it uplifting energy encouraging dance and a celebration of life.

Scottish band Young Fathers at the Melt! 2015 in Ferropolis/Germany. Photo Courtesy of Stefan Bollmann, under Creative Commons.
Young Fathers at the Melt! 2015 in Ferropolis/Germany. Photo Courtesy of Stefan Bollmann, under Creative Commons.


Take a look at album opener “Rice” for example. The percussive groove on the track alone is enough to get your body moving. Towards the end of the song, the ensemble of voices chanting the chorus feels like a concert with everybody invested in ramping the energy up towards its climax.

By far the most powerful segment of the song, though, is the chant “these hands can heal”. You can’t help but join in the power of this phrase, and I think there was a missed opportunity to bring this chant back at the end of the track. Instead, the chant on the back end of the track calls listeners to “see the turning tide”. This feels less powerful, though it does more cleanly fit with the theme of sticking through the rough patches of life.

I need to eat more rice
It’ll take some time
Gonna take some time
Gotta bide my time

Lyrics from “Rice” by Young Fathers.

“I Saw”

The second track on the album is where Young Fathers seems to get into some thematic consistency. “I Saw” doubles down on the message of waiting out the rough times to get to better ones. At least here, they actually get into the source of these bad patches: abuse, especially parental abuse. Wordplay is improved considerably here, even if the music itself is more repetitive and harder to really get into.

“I Saw” also foreshadows one of “Heavy Heavy”‘s biggest flaws: not knowing how to end. Again, the track ends with a chant that feels like it goes on a bit too long given the dynamic nature of the rest of the song. Here, it’s not a big deal, but on later tracks like “Sink or Swim” the energy dies off without feeling like an emotional resolution has been reached yet.

Music video of “I Saw” by Young Fathers.

The rest of the album

While there are still great tracks left on “Heavy Heavy” the first half of the album–especially the first three tracks–is far more powerful than the latter half. A track like “Tell Somebody”, while it has a good message, has little uniqueness or clarity. It feels too direct, especially compared to the other tracks mentioned above.

“Ululation” is a pleasant embrace of two of the members’ West African histories, but it doesn’t blend all that well with the rest of the album tonally, not just linguistically. It’s an elongated interlude trying to be its own track. “Sink Or Swim”, meanwhile, feels derivative of the prior tracks on the album, as if the song was created after the album’s singles came out. It sounds shallower and more cheaply produced. “Holy Moly” sounds like a track off of a JPEGMAFIA album as opposed to Young Fathers’ own style.

Concluding Thoughts

There’s a lot to like about “Heavy Heavy”. The great songs on the album are on repeat all the time on my playlists. However, the rest of the album feels incomplete and rushed. Some songs on the album did not need to be nearly as long as they were. Others either failed to recreate the celebratory sound of “Rice” or failed to create a rich, darker sound that compliments its lyrics.

Rating: 6/10

–DJ Cashew

Concert Review

Best of Double Barrel Benefit 19: A Recap

As many of you may be aware, Double Barrel Benefit 19, a WKNC fundraiser, happened recently. Each of the two nights featured four local artists playing their hearts out to a packed venue at Kings Raleigh. The energy in the place was incredibly lively, and the whole concert was just a great time. I want to showcase some of the best acts from both nights here that I believe deserve more support and a larger fanbase.


Chainletter performing at DBB19. Photo courtesy of Alena Lewis Photography.

Night one premiered with techno act Chainletter, who brought the initially stagnant, uninterested crowd to an energetic boil. This silent DJ didn’t need to interrupt their set to bring the crowd back to their music. They knew how to keep adding on more and more depth to their sound, ramping up the intensity over time.

Juxton Roy

Juxton Roy performing at DBB19. Photo courtesy of Lizzy Novelli.
Jess Ray of Juxton Roy performing at DBB19. Photo courtesy of Lizzy Novelli.

Juxton Roy closed out night one of DBB19 as its headliner with the most dynamic set of any artist that night. This queer, emo rock group kept up much of the energy from previous act Fading Signal while infusing a richer emotional core. They swerved from crowd-pleasers like “The Road” to trauma-dump session “Elephant” with ease.

Teens in Trouble

Lizzie Killian of Teens in Trouble performing at DBB19. Photo courtesy of William Flathmann.

Night two featured artists such as Teens in Trouble, whose set felt most familiar to other indie rock artists . Their music felt perfectly crafted for a party setting with a lively on-stage performance contrasting lead vocalist Lizzie Killian’s shoegaze singing. Although their lyrics can get quite melancholic, their sound never failed to keep the crowd engaged and moving.


Khx05 performing at DBB19. Photo courtesy of William Flathmann.

Khx05 (pronounced “chaos”) might have been my favorite act across all of DBB19. This black, trans artist from night two put on by far the most invigorating on-stage performance of any artist through their dance. With music emphasizing sexuality and power, their dance felt like a really well choreographed thirst trap in the best possible way.

Although seeing any artist live tends to be a more enjoyable experience than listening to them online or through radio, Khx05 was incredible to see in-person in a way that can’t be appreciated otherwise. Additional help was provided by WKNC’s own Plover, who did DJ work during the set.

Concluding Thoughts

Double Barrel Benefit 19 was an absolutely fantastic experience to share with everyone who came out for it. I wish the artists I’ve mentioned here, as well as the others who performed, all the best in their future careers. There’s so much good music in local music scenes, so support local artists when you can.

Classic Album Review

Visions of Bodies Being Burned – clipping. Review

Over the past month or so, I’ve been entranced by clipping.‘s 2020 release, “Visions of Bodies Being Burned”. Full of industrial energy, “Visions” is a headache-inducing, horror rap journey that I cannot get enough of. I truly do not believe there is another hip-hop group around right now with a similar style and sound as clipping.

A Blood Narrative

One of the most cohesive threads running through “Visions” is how well clipping. pieces together narratives like a detective novel. “Say the Name” sets this precedence with the story of a woman haunted by a DIY abortion of a nine-month pregnancy. The consistently violent imagery following her lust after a man keeps listeners in morbid curiosity of how her situation could have ended so poorly.

clipping. also seems to have done a decent bit of murder investigation as well. With how vividly the killings of three different cops are described, there’s so much dread that went through me listening to “Body for the Pile”. Even the horrifically grinding sound of overdriven static at the start of the track adds to its aesthetic. The three murders only get more violent and messy as the song progresses.

Three little pigs and they can’t do nothing, for the last time

You can’t run, you just a body for the pile

Lyrics from “Body for the Pile” by clipping.

It’s hard to miss, but the way the officers’ corpses are just “bodies for the pile” highlights their stance on police getting killed generally. The first is beaten to death, the second is shot, and the third is killed in a car crash, representing the most common atrocities committed by cops against civilians.

The Sound of Violence

Photo of "clipping." at a live performance.
Promotional photo of clipping. Courtesy of Edwina Hay at Sub Pop Records.

One of the most striking aspects of clipping.’s music is how overwhelmingly powerful the bass is on every track. Many songs start with either rumbling, deep bass or pure noise for the sake of noise. There’s very little in terms of percussion or any lighter sounds than this pounding that permeates the album. So, when the bass drops out, you know to pay extra attention to rapper Daveed Diggs’s lyrics.

His rapid-fire style and punchy flow are in themselves just as violent as the music he raps over. The use of an extensive range of metaphors and references only make his verses all the more dynamic. His voice isn’t particularly heavy though, so it can still cut through the rest of clipping.’s beats when it needs to. The result is an outburst of frustration at a wide variety of social ills from police violence to the destruction of Earth. As a response to the violence of the perpetrators, clipping. calls for an equally violent revolution.

Waiting patient for the signal when the time is right

To bring it down

Lyrics from “Something Underneath” by clipping.

Concluding Thoughts

When a group with this much talent comes along, they become hard to ignore. I believe that they will surpass other experimental hip-hop artists with future records powered by their toxic industrial production within the next few years. From this album, I especially enjoyed the songs mentioned above, as well as “She Bad” and “’96 Neve Campbell”.

Rating: 9/10

— DJ Cashew

Classic Album Review

Well, I Should Have become a Jazz Daredevil

A couple months ago, a friend of mine referred to me an album called “Well, I Should Have…*” by Jon Benjamin – Jazz Daredevil. The record was released in 2015 under Sub Pop Records, who have a track record of talented artists. I’m typically not much of a jazz listener, but I decided to give this a shot.

The Premise

H. Jon Benjamin is a comedian, writer, actor, and “musician” who decided to create a jazz album with some other professional musicians on drums, bass, and saxophone. Lacking any skill or practice on piano, Benjamin attempts to sell his soul to the devil and is turned down. The rest of the album is divided into 4 parts, each titled “I Can’t Play Piano”.

Portrait photo of H. Jon Benjamin at the 2022 WonderCon in Anaheim, California
H. Jon Benjamin at the 2022 WonderCon in Anaheim, California. Photo Courtesy of Gage Skidmore, under Creative Commons.

The first part begins with a lively saxophone led section, and actually sounds quite good. The drums and bass play together wonderfully, and the sax solos are dynamic and fresh. And then Benjamin comes along.

With no sense of rhythm, melody, or how chords work, Benjamin’s piano sounds like a dying songbird with its vocal cords swapped around. When playing as backup for the lead saxophone, he actually doesn’t sound that bad, all things considered. But, since he has to improvise his solos, he is hopelessly out of tune with the rest of the band. In fact, they just play over him as if there is no piano to begin with.

This pattern continues throughout the rest of the album. The professional jazz players try their hardest to create a satisfying, cohesive set while the Jazz Daredevil tries his hardest to keep that from happening. And that makes this album so fun to listen to. This album is the music equivalent of “The Room” or “The VelociPastor”, which I consider to be high praise as a comedy special.

The Skits

As a comedian, Benjamin can’t help himself from putting a couple of jazz-inspired skits in his album. “Amy’s Song (The Bum Steer)” is a raunchy song too explicit to describe here, and it has to be the worst of his three skits, so I’ll skip over it. “Deal With the Devil” and “Soft Jazzercise” are spoken word interludes performed by Benjamin that fit in perfectly with the musical tone of the album.

The first of these tracks actually features Kristen Schaal and Aziz Ansari, both well-respected comedians in their own right. The dialogue between Benjamin and Schaal may remind listeners of a conversation from “Bob’s Burgers”, since they voice Bob and Louise Belcher, respectively. Benjamin’s timid insistence on selling his soul is honestly endearing, especially through Benjamin’s deadpan delivery that makes him sound uninterested in the intricacies of soul-selling.

Benjamin uses “Soft Jazzercise” to ease the mind of listeners, giving them a break from his lack of piano skills. His class is easy for any listener to try out for themselves. Personally, I found it refreshing and comforting to listen to his voice lead me on a journey of self-improvement.

Closing Thoughts

This album might not be the most meticulously crafted. It might not sound as good as Thelonious Monk or Dave Brubeck. But “Well, I Should Have…*” is an incredibly creative and irreplicable album that I highly recommend listening to for any fans of music. Although, perhaps regular jazz listeners might find it too rough on the ears.

Promotional video for “Well, I Should Have…*” released by Sub Pop Records.

— DJ Cashew

Music Education

An Introduction to Japanese Rock

Since World War II, US and Japanese cultures have intermingled significantly, resulting in a large American market for Japanese media. While anime might be the most prevalent example, Japanese music has also gained a significant following among listeners in the US.

Personally, I’ve been drawn to Japanese rock (J-rock) as a rock style that sounds distinctly unlike anything I’ve heard from English-speaking artists. Several artists have impressive catalogs of work that deserve more widespread recognition. Now, I don’t speak Japanese, so I can’t say anything regarding the lyrical quality of most of these artists. However, the music itself is stellar enough to enjoy on its own merits.


POLKADOT STINGRAY was my first introduction into J-rock, and I think they provide a good jumping off point for deeper exploration into the genre. Their music primarily features a high-pitched, snappy electric guitar leading their songs and a very active bass guitar that’s just satisfying to focus in on. Much of J-rock also utilizes this type of guitar playing rarely found in the US, especially in popular, contemporary rock artists. Additionally, vocalist Shizuku’s rich, breathy singing allows the more intense instrumentals to shine through A significant funk influence also permeates their discography, like on the album “Nanimono (何者)”, which is my personal favorite.


If you’re looking for a more laid-back band, then Odottebakarinokuni (踊ってばかりの国) is up your alley. The band has a much softer sound than POLKADOT STINGRAY and features a more familiar, US indie rock style compared to other J-rock artists. Tracks like “EDEN” highlight the lead vocalist’s drawn out singing and a guitar with an almost overwhelming, yet quiet, overdrive.


Noise rock has also thrived in Japan as evidenced by bands like Melt-Banana. The punk band’s work has become especially popular in the US and UK, where punk often favors pure noise over the groove found in Melt-Banana’s music. Yasuko O.’s shrieking singing on tracks like “Lie Lied Lies” gets drowned out by a guitar that blows out speakers and drums that leave your head pounding in the best possible way.


CHAI is an uncommon example of a J-rock artist who frequently uses both English and Japanese lyrics and collaborates with English-speaking artists like Gorillaz and Duran Duran. While their music can be profoundly different to most other J-rock artists, they also hold a unique sound among US and UK artists. CHAI incorporates electronica and dance into their rock that makes their sound incredibly fun. When their groove is paired with that same snappy guitar popular in J-rock music, the result is catchy, experimental, and perfect to jam out to. I highly recommend “PUNK”, which captures their style perfectly.

Classic Album Review

Bent Knee’s “Land Animal”: Dynamic Rock at its Finest

Bent Knee was founded in 2009 between Ben Levin and Courtney Swain as a mashup of the members names: Ben and (Cour)tney. They’ve danced between more industrial rock at their founding to hyper-pop inspired, avant-garde rock as of their most recent album. Here, though, I want to discuss their most popular album, “Land Animal”. I believe this to be the greatest amalgamation of the band’s talents, especially lead singer Swain.

Musical Versatility in Bent Knee’s Hands

Bent Knee has a knack for progression throughout the runtime of their songs, which is amplified by the average 5:03 minute length of tracks on this album. Starting with lead track “Terror Bird”, the song starts with some simple, low-key drumming and rhythm guitar led by Swain’s voice. Eventually, the song picks up as a heavy, overdriven electric guitar drowns out Swain’s beautifully quivering falsetto.

Music Video for song “Terror Bird” by Bent Knee.

Likewise, “These Hands” highlights the musical storytelling Bent Knee is capable of. The song never repeats itself in structure, and each new phase feels fresh and invigorating. The bridge towards the end of the song, especially, seems to throw guitars and drums all around your ears as it goes on, creating an incredibly dynamic soundscape.

The Haunting Holiness of Bent Knee’s Voice

“Holy Ghost” is probably where Swain gets to show off her vocal range best on the album. Her loud, nasally singing on the chorus feels straight out of 90s grunge bands like Hole. She perfectly encapsulates a work-induced loneliness that breaks her. Even her quiet singing on the bridge sounds like shes about to have a mental breakdown, especially with how her voice echoes with delay.

These qualities persist through the album, of course, but they take center stage on “Holy Ghost”. Despite their often heavy subject material, Bent Knee’s music also becomes incredibly cathartic to sing along to because of these qualities. I’ve actually found listening to “Land Animal” in my car, screaming choruses to no one in particular, to be a great form of emotional relief.

I am shrinking in the laptop light
Messages and blessings from each part of my mind
When I’m writing fiction I can shriek in real life

Lyrics from “Holy Ghost” by Bent Knee

Concluding Thoughts

Again, I highly recommend “Land Animal”, and the rest of Bent Knee’s work for that matter. If you’re listening to this album for the first time, I suggest giving it your full attention, letting the guitars wash over you and the lyrics penetrate you.

Rating: 8.5/10

— DJ Cashew


Celeste, Tackling Anxiety with Synths

On January 25, 2018, a small team led by Maddy Thorson and Noel Berry at Extremely OK Games (EXOK) released Celeste. The game quickly grew in popularity as a 2D platformer with smooth, intuitive movement, a heartfelt narrative, and a stellar soundtrack. The impressive levels of depth to the game also helped launch a vibrant speedrunning community as it is the 6th most active game on

I want to dive deeper, though, into how the music in this game ties together those other elements. Between Lena Raine’s composition and Power Up Audio’s sound design, Celeste has been nominated for (and won) 7 different awards for its score. There will be spoilers for the first 7 chapters that comprise the main game, so go play Celeste first if you haven’t already.

Lena Raine, composer and producer for Celeste. Photo courtesy of Sara Ranlett, under Creative Commons.

Opening Anxieties

Chapter 1, Forsaken City, establishes our protagonist and her goal of climbing Celeste Mountain. Madeline travels through an abandoned town with run-down steam machinery as her theme plays in the background. Using a high-pitched synth in a major key, the theme sounds hopeful and optimistic.

Along the way, she meets a fellow climber, Theo, who mostly just wants pictures for his Instapix followers as opposed to actually reaching the summit. Eventually, she finds an old campsite with a memorial “dedicated to those who perished on the climb”. The music dies down, leaving just a piano repeating the same three notes softly, and the chapter ends.

Chapter 2, Old Site, introduces Madeline’s antagonist, who refers to herself as “Part of You”. The community has instead nicknamed her Badeline so I’ll use that name here. She casts doubt on Madeline’s journey and reflects her anxieties, uncovering Madeline’s true motivations for climbing Celeste Mountain.

About halfway through the chapter, she begins chasing Madeline by imitating the player’s movements, killing her if they touch. Here, the music intensifies as Badeline’s theme begins playing. The same synth for Madeline’s theme plays a similar melody, but lowered an octave and slowed down, creating a spookier, haunting melody that echoes on. The parallels between Madeline and Badeline are obvious through gameplay and music, though their ideas still clash.

Screenshot of Chapter 2 of Celeste. Photo courtesy of Maddy Makes Games, under Creative Commons.

Books and a Breakdown

Madeline makes it up to a hotel on the mountain for chapter 3, Celestial Resort, which is often considered harder than the next two or three chapters. A soft piano introduces the chapter as Madeline meets Mr. Oshiro, the hotel owner who appears to be a ghost. As the player progresses through the level, Oshiro continues to grow more insecure about Madeline not wanting to stay.

Badeline tells Oshiro that Madeline only wanted to help him to satiate her ego, which Madeline tries to argue against. A boss fight with an enraged Oshiro ensues, and the music grows violent. An 8-bit synth mixes with Oshiro’s ghastly theme as vibrant drumming intensifies the interaction.

Madeline: If I disappear now, Mr. Oshiro could have a meltdown.
​And maybe I can actually do something good. For once.

Quote from Chapter 3 of Celeste.

Madeline was advised earlier by Theo not to try to help Oshiro with his anxieties for her own safety, but she refused, saying she wanted to “do something good for once”. So, Badeline was not that wrong in what she told Oshiro, leaving players with a sense that Madeline and Badeline are not as good and bad as they seem to be respectively.

Magnifying Mirrors

Chapter 5, Mirror Temple, delves into a visual representation of Madeline’s worries through a labyrinth of puzzles. The score is quiet, subtle, and devoid of either Madeline or Badeline’s themes. As a result, players feel alone and lost in the temple, allowing doubt about their own abilities to creep in. Madeline eventually gets sucked into a mirror where she enters rooms now occupied by seekers.

The temple amplifies the mountain’s ability to bring out a part of oneself that they despise, so these seekers represent Madeline’s worries about climbing the mountain. She feels they’re attacking her. The same vibrant drums from the boss fight with Oshiro return, indicating that Madeline feels as stressed now as she did then.

Revelation and Reform

Chapter 6, Reflection, opens with Madeline telling Part of Herself that she doesn’t need her anymore. Badeline is only slowing her down. It seems like Madeline has finally defeated Badeline as bold, optimistic synths come in. And then, Badeline breaks. She begins berating Madeline for thinking she can just neglect Part of Herself and Madeline begins having a panic attack. Badeline worsens her stress and they end up falling all the way back to the base of the mountain.

They meet again later, and the last boss fight in the game commences. The music swells louder and more complex than ever. Madeline and Badeline’s themes alternate now as the fight progresses. Everything feels so grand that this difficult section feels invigorating rather than discouraging to play.

Madeline tries to keep calming Badeline down until they are both beaten down. Madeline tells her counterpart that she was wrong to leave instead of helping her, and that they have to work together instead of separating again. They merge into one character and the player unlocks a new mechanic.

Chapter 7, Summit, ends the game by progressing through remixed versions of each of the previous chapters. Now each chapter’s music is accompanied by triumphant strings and a piano version of both character’s themes. The progression of the game becomes much more vertical as it feels like they are speeding up the mountain far faster together than they ever did separately.

Screenshot of Chapter 7 of Celeste. Photo courtesy of Maddy Makes Games, under Creative Commons

The last section features a series of checkpoints counting down from 30 as players are encouraged to jump, dash, and climb their way to the summit. As the player reaches the final checkpoint, the score fades into the background so a sense of relief can wash over. Madeline was really able to climb the mountain. The player was able to climb the mountain.

Closing Thoughts

Aside from the contents of the music within each level, there are a couple other elements I wish to praise. No part of the score ever grows stale, since there are so many small variations of each chapter’s music. They never seem to loop on themselves.

The way EXOK handles anxiety in Celeste is remarkably original as well. Much of the story was created through Maddy Thorson’s own experiences, and there’s even a genuinely helpful strategy at the end of Chapter 4 for alleviating panic attacks, both for Madeline and the player.

Although Celeste’s narrative was primarily focused on anxiety and how to reckon with it, many trans people have found the narrative to describe their experiences very well too. In fact, this coincidence likely comes from Maddy’s experiences as well, since she came out as trans not long after Celeste released. In a follow-up DLC to Celeste, the last cutscene shows a trans pride flag on Madeline’s desk, confirming that Madeline the character is also trans, which is a nice touch.

Anyway, play Celeste if you haven’t before, so you can greater experience this indie masterpiece. And if you have played it before, replay it and see what connections you can make to your own life. Keep on a lookout for EXOK’s next game too, Earthblade.