Meet the Exec Board: Maria Bobbitt-Chertok (’20)
by Meghan Daly on August 11, 2017
Posted in: Uncategorized
Hey, I’m Maria (she/her), and I’ll be your spring semester tech director (I think that’s got a pretty nice ring to it)! This summer I’m back home in suburban Ohio, working in the Kenwood Mall food court. I make smoothies, juices, and sandwiches, employ deceptive corporate language (e.g., “It’s fresh frozen fruit” and “It’s a purified juice”), earn what in many states is less than minimum wage, and endure forty-plus mispronunciations of the word “açai” per day.
Below are nine of my favorite albums from this year. Stay tuned for more lists by my intelligent fellow execs!
Capacity, Big Thief
Big Thief’s frontwoman and primary songwriter Adrianne Lenker isn’t looking for catharsis—despite her lyrics’ disparate renderings of trauma, her voice rarely breaks, maintaining its self-control, its delicate, whispering quality. Her band’s sophomore album looks inward for the soul’s “capacity” to heal itself even in the dark.
Capacity’s melancholy folk-rock tells stories about a car crash, sexual assault, head trauma, and PTSD, each painfully specific, what with its named characters (Evelyn, Andrew, Haley, Mary, etc.) and intimate descriptions. But as Lenker’s lyrics point out, the more detailed one’s memory becomes—the more like a PTSD flashback—the stranger the present becomes, “Every familiarity scarce as the great white shark.” It’s too difficult to find peace in one’s immediate surroundings. Instead, you seek balance in yourself and in others. You look for the family every individual contains—the internal mother, father, and child. The album’s cover, and final lines, suggest this: “Let me make a man outta you / I could gather you, and you tell the truth / You cry inside my arms like a child.”
The album’s production is dreamlike without sounding ambient or lo-fi (the fifth track, “Coma,” being an exception). The guitars sound cleanly and the vocals sound clearly, but now and then, enough layers make the melody seem distant (on “Mythological Beauty,” Lenker’s voice calls out through an arrangement reminiscent of ambulance sirens). The tracks’ instrumentations are repetitious, as typical of folk accompaniments, but at times also complex, requiring the listener’s attention.
Capacity sprawls like a history, each melody unique enough to mark individual events but familiar enough to create an atmosphere. Its lyrics combine adroit storytelling with curiosity (“Do you leave your light on?”) and an extended hand (“You turn your own light on inside of me”). Like a memory, it demands to be revisited over and over.
Infinite Worlds, Vagabon
The title Infinite Worlds comes from the Dana Ward poem, “The Crisis of Infinite Worlds.” Here’s an excerpt:
the most wonderful graffiti, more
a prayer, written on a wall
in magic marker, it read—
1) That we would grow closer & closer as time progresses.
2) That our ships would not crash.
These two ideas sum up Vagabon’s debut LP well—the album’s more driving tracks seem cut short, as if afraid of wearing themselves out; the lyrics express conflicting desires to settle close with others and to preserve emotional independence.
Vagabon writes bluntly about space and architecture, what constitutes a “home” and what does not. And as a U.S. immigrant from Cameroon, she navigates these spaces in a fascinating way: they all seem liminal to her, come and gone in the turn of a phrase. This perspective/voice is essential to art given our current political climate.
SZA’s voice has the expressive allure of a female Frank Ocean. If that doesn’t win you over immediately, then just wait for that lyric: “You could never trivialize pussy.” (There’s a lot to unpack there—the influence women have over men despite male bravado! the equal importance of sexual partners in a society that treats the penetrated partner(s) with indifference!) Or just steep in those smooth R&B hooks.
Truly this album can be enjoyed two different ways: 1) You could play it in the background and let the disparate but never shocking melodies filter in, or 2), you could listen actively and experience constant mental stops-and-starts thanks to SZA’s smart, brutal lyrics.
Guppy, Charly Bliss
What I appreciate most about this album is lead singer Eva Hendricks’ voice. It’s nasal. It’s babyish. It’s distinctly female. It’s precisely what annoys most people about Charly Bliss. But those qualities make her performance great. We’re too quick to dismiss “girly”-sounding voices as naive and top-40, which is exactly why indie rock needs more of them.
It’s clear, too, that her style of singing benefits her material. How else could she pull off refrains like, “I’m too sad to be mean, / I’m gonna end up working at Dairy Queen”? How else could she get me to fucking fall in love with that line? Her untempered voice matches her untempered lyrics. She’s unfalteringly sincere.
Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Japanese Breakfast
Japanese Breakfast’s sophomore album is (pun intended) worlds away from her first. While Psychopomp was more an album of mourning—Michelle Zauner lost her mother to cancer—Soft Sounds from Another Planet embraces, and at times even celebrates, complex anxieties surrounding loss and femininity. Through shoegaze-y guitar licks and vocal effects, Zauner voices her desire to heal, to “be a woman of regimen.” She may be weary, but she’s willing to get up again and face the daily war against “thanatophobia,” that invading alien: “Steering on hostile waves of panic / Like fighting a wheel that pulls to the right / I don’t deserve you but I’m giving it my best.”
Everybody Works, Jay Som
This album’s title might seem a bit ironic when you learn that Melina Duterte wrote, performed, recorded, and produced every sound on this album. It’s an incredible feat of bedroom pop—the tracks cover several genres without losing cohesion, and the production is sophisticated but accessible.
Duterte is a serious musician (she planned to study jazz trumpet at a conservatory), and it shows. But what makes her a brilliant musician is her ability to render emotions. Her sophomore LP gracefully navigates every mood from the spirited (e.g., “The Bus Song”) to the melancholy (e.g., “(BedHead)”), and she encourages us to do so too, reminding us that “everybody works” towards equanimity.
Not Even Happiness, Julie Byrne
Not Even Happiness lies halfway between Byrne’s earlier lo-fi folk and Julien Baker’s ambient rock. Its arrangements convey the loneliness of living in constant motion; you listen and see Midwestern landscapes pass through a car window.
Byrne isn’t afraid of the personal or the literary, so she isn’t afraid of making a (quite meta) album about her life as a touring musician. It’s simultaneously nomadic and nostalgic. It cherishes what little constancy it encounters: a gaze, an open field, a blue sky. On “I Live Now As a Singer,” she sings, “I have dragged my lives across the country / And wondered if travel led me anywhere / There’s a passion in me, which does not long for those things / Tell me how it’d feel for you to be here now.”
Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples
Vince Staples is all too aware of how he’s become another celebrity-behind-glass (behind your phone screen, on your news feed, in a fishbowl). In Big Fish Theory, he explores how being subject to this kind of voyeurism forces him to accept labels that he can’t outgrow alone. African-Americans in general experience this same kind of media-fed objectification, he argues, and this prevents many from fulfilling their potential: “Battle with the white man day by day / Feds takin’ pictures doin’ play by play / They don’t ever want to see the black man eat / Nails in the black man’s hands and feet.”
But Big Fish Theory’s production is perhaps even more remarkable than Staples’ lyrics. A landscape of sparkling club samples environs his performance, as well as bizarre rhythmic structures. The album experiments with many genres—from the accessible to the avant-garde—while remaining distinctly hip-hop.
A Crow Looked At Me, Mount Eerie
Mount Eerie’s Phil Elvrum wrote A Crow Looked At Me after losing his wife, Geneviève, to cancer. The album’s refrain is simple: “Death is real.” The tracks follow his struggle to embrace this message as well as his attempts to find quotidian meaning that tempers its emotional impact—he takes out the trash. He goes on walks with his daughter. He opens and closes windows. In all these activities he confronts his wife’s death, but he also confronts their essentiality to his own perseverance and well-being.
The folk melodies do not stay with you, but the uncompromising, free-verse lyrics do. On “Seaweed,” Elvrum describes a moment of complete loss, the moment when symbols fall away: “What about foxgloves? Is that a flower you liked? / I can’t remember. You did most of my remembering for me, / And now I stand in a field full of wild foxgloves, wondering if you’re there / Or if a flower means anything.” Nature only has meaning when you can ascribe human love to it… We cry on the album’s final track when a crow follows him and his daughter, and he wonders if it’s Geneviève.