Tomorrow, Monday, March 23, Tufts’ own “tall, grunged-out trio” Cave will be broadcasting their new EP, “Tiny God,” on WMFO’s Funkin’ Gonuts.
Two thirds of the group, which delivered two hugely well-received performances at Applejam shows this academic year, will be sitting down with WMFO’s Jane Acker to answer the questions that have been on everyone’s mind since the band burst out last fall. Funkin’ Gonuts will be the only place to hear “Tiny God” ahead of its official release, so be sure to tune in at 11 AM sharp so you don’t miss a beat. As always, you’ll find the broadcast at 91.5 on your FM dial in the Medford/Somerville area, or worldwide at wmfo.org.
WMFO is pleased to announce that it is giving away free tickets to TWO great shows later this month!
He’ll be playing at on March 20th at The Sinclair, at 52 Church Street in Harvard Square. If you’re interested, shoot an email to email@example.com to claim those tickets – the first emailer get them both!
The day right after, March 21st, Phoenix band Andrew Jackson Jihad will be coming to the Royale at 279 Tremont St. in Boston. They’re touring in support of last year’s album “Christmas Island,” which likewise got some real positive attention upon its release.
As with the Perfume Genius show, tickets to see Andrew Jackson Jihad will be given away to the first person who emails firstname.lastname@example.org and asks for them.
Stay tuned for more giveaways from WMFO, Tufts’ 100% freeform student and community radio station!
by Daniel Welch
“To do away with itself, that spirit cannot do; seize itself, so long as it has itself outside itself, it cannot do that either. Nor can the human being sink down into the vegetative, for he is characterized as spirit. Flee from anxiety he cannot, for he loves it; really love it he cannot, for he flees from it. Innocence has now reached its peak.” – Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety
A Distant Fist Unclenching is a difficult, rewarding album.
Relative to previous releases, Krill has stripped down their song structure — songs ‘Phantom’, ‘Torturer’, ‘Tiger’ and ‘Brain Problem’ all involve repeating lines or verses more or less word-for-word — but with less words Krill manages to summon much more dense and intricate images. I didn’t really ‘get’ a few of the songs on the first listen, and every once in a while a line will still throw me a bit, forcing me to question whether I’m missing something big (it doesn’t help that you’re thrown into it without a lyric sheet or anything). Not only that, but the images and ideas of these individual songs have tricky ways of echoing throughout the album, which makes understanding the thing itself all at once a difficult task.
Not only that, but in many ways a part of understanding A Distant Fist Unclenching is as a culmination of what Krill has done so far as a band. A lot of musicians indulge themselves or their fanbase in winking references to self-mythology, a strange by-product of pop music that bizarrely ends up becoming a part of the commerce in its own right. Krill has been guilty of this before (sardonically or no, they have recorded a song called “Theme from Krill”), but on this record history plays a much more meaningful role: Krill moves forward with some of the core “Krill” concepts (of failure, division of self, “Purity”, human and animal life…) and their ability to do so is already impressive in itself. But more than that, how this step is taken is actually a testament to the central ideas of the album… The most fitting way to explain this, for now at least, seems to be a (not really winking) reference:
On ‘Infinite Power’, the climax of the previous Krill full-length Lucky Leaves (2013), bassist/lyricist Jonah Furman sings:
“And now the fact that things have happened,
is the only thing that I can know
and inside that oscillating noise
is my favorite place to go…
It’s the only place I can go.”
At the end of new song ‘Tiger’, Furman’s pleading cries of “Me…. Me…. Me!” are swallowed by a thickly distorted wall of sound, generated by guitarist Aaron Ratoff locomotively chugging at the same minor note over and over again. In a moment like this the listener finally arrives in that oscillating place Furman could previously only describe. Beneath the unyielding layer of noise, the distant sounds of a bassline by Furman, Ian Becker on drums, and shrill, creakily ascending feedback (and a plunking that might be the most uncharacteristically “Krill” piano part ever?) just barely offer up a sense of progression. But tempting as it is to anxiously poke through the incomprehensible repetition at these suggestions of structure and meaning, at the end of the “bad day” or “good day” Furman frames the verses with, all we can know is that things have happened.
What follows is a sort of crazy, English major-y analysis of A Distant Fist Unclenching. It helps if you’ve listened to Krill before, but the hope is that it isn’t necessary. For reading this, that is. Beyond that, I’m not coming down on either side.
“Novelism” is a standard that always requires some unpacking, but it’s one that definitely has a place in conversations about Krill. The best way to do so might be found on the back of their previous release, self-proclaimed “failed concept EP” Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears (2014). The reverse side of the record sleeve has all of the lyrics printed in a single, prosaic paragraph — repetition of lines and choruses cut out in order to adapt a musical narrative (“failed” or no) to a print format. The result is something like prose poetry, but there’s also something very different about it. . . which would be kind of useless to parse out in a review for a different record entirely. But it’s an interesting attempt to bridge the gap between the two forms, and the possibility for the album to cohere as a literal ‘text’ reveals a bit about Krill’s overall mindset when it comes to lyrics. For now, it’s enough to know that this is clearly something that the three think about a lot – Furman himself explained to Death and Taxes his feelings about the critical response to Lucky Leaves:
“I guess people don’t respect something you can experience in three minutes but I feel like we’ve just published a short novel…”
Since the idea of the ‘concept album’ was introduced, songwriters have puzzled over the question of how to get a Pop record to function as such while also carrying a narrative (And selling). Some take an operatic approach, having the lead singer literally tell you the whole story as catchy guitar hooks work their way around it. Others have taken a more abstract approach, building a narrative sonically as otherwise disconnected lyrics touch on common themes. And in the intervening decades, as physical, digital, and multi-media alternatives have challenged the increasingly defunct LP format — stuck up against the wall right next to the novel that convinced it to get “conceptual” in the first place — new artists have found new, inventive ways to approach the question.
If it seems like I’m about to say that Krill has finally found the answer, I’m not (and it definitely wasn’t going to be that they’ve gone from “something you can experience in three minutes” to something you can experience in five and a half). But the album is actually better for it, because A Distant Fist Unclenching isn’t about stepping away from your problems and towards a solution, but finding a unique, functional place within these liminal (“oscillating”) spaces of self-questioning. And in this sense, with A Distant Fist Krill seems to have redeemed the “failure” of Steve Hears Pile – the trio has come that much closer to expressing itself in its own dialectic. As such, the ‘sinew’ of A Distant Fist meshes together in a way that isn’t really like any other band’s album. And as such, it’s tricky to write about. You’ll see.
Okay, that’s enough about the old shit for now.
The titular claim of album closer, ‘It Ends’ is that, “It ends. . . the same way it begins.” ‘It Ends’ itself concludes the record with a slow, anxious fade-out, mirroring the fade-in that begins not the opening track, ‘Phantom’, but the second track, ‘Foot’. If you’re a listener who grew up in the Pink Floyd tradition of bookended fades easing you into and eventually out of the ‘experience’, then maybe this strikes you as a marginally odd choice. But then maybe it digs at you a bit (and maybe you take a bong rip) and the result is a sort of koan: “When does ‘It’ begin. . . not how it ends. . ?” And maybe it’s just then you remember that the first song is called ‘Phantom’, and so maybe it makes sense that it’s placed outside the ‘body’. . . of the album. . . ? You fall asleep with your headphones on, but not before resolving to soberly reassess in the morning.
In ‘novelistic’ terms, ‘Phantom’ serves as a prologue to A Distant Fist Unclenching. This allows the lyrics to introduce some central images and arguments of the album as a whole while still being slightly distanced from the narrative – namely:
“What’s the proper orientation of my self to my non-self?*
What’s the proper orientation of my non-self to me?
What’s the proper orientation of the world to my non-self?
What’s the proper orientation of the world to me?
Does it always have to be. . .
Although you hate clubbing, you find yourself in a club. And even though dancefloor hookups don’t carry any value for you, there’s still a strange feeling that comes to you when you end the night alone. You either tell yourself, “There’s no such thing as ghosts,” or try to acknowledge this specter of rejection. . . You come to terms with the presence and return to the club the next night, vowing to find a stranger to go home with. But when the moment finally comes, another phantom passes through you and it all seems sort of unsexy and pointless.
You think you’re a good person, but then you remember a bad thing you did. You think you’re a bad person, but then you remember a time when someone told you you were good.
Wherever you end the night, you feel as dissatisfied as the night before.
So what’s the proper orientation?
The questions ‘Phantom’ ends on form a transition between it and the body of A Distant Fist, made particularly resonant by the fact that the previous verses have been sung entirely in the second person, transposing onto the listener the existential angst that Furman then places upon himself in the songs that follow. It clarifies that, though the rest of the lyrics are about Furman, and can only really be about Furman, there, but for the grace of God, go “You”. On A Distant Fist Unclenching, the division of the self is comparable to the “othering / of a puny little bug” alluded to in ‘Fly’ – the painful distance Furman has to negotiate between his non-self and his present sense of ‘self’ is as vast as that of “You” from “Me.”
Not only do these questions give us a philosophical grounding from which to approach the rest of the album, but moments in the song introduce several lyrical and aural motifs that reiterate throughout: Furman’s sneering address, “puny pilgrim, keep on running” may be to his paranoiac, restless self in ‘Foot’, but also to the aforementioned “puny” ‘Fly’ – as Furman describes the “unblinking, awful scent” arising from the glass of sour milk in his kitchen, the vocal reverb momentarily wobbles away from his voice into something like the ethereal doppelganger of the title… which returns to haunt his bitter interrogation of “what is juuuuuuust… me” in ‘Brain Problem’ – at 2:12 we hear the collapsing bass motif that will send the interlude preceding and guitar fills following Furman’s new lease on life in ‘Mom’ crashing into themselves. The album is recursive in the sense that with each reiteration the first iteration gains clarification – the album builds itself with each listen.
With these phantasmic presences of the songs to come, we are given a sense that the entire album could be dispersed throughout Furman’s house – thoughts, images, and leitmotifs swirl in the hallway (as they do on the center label of the record itself) as he pinches his nose and prays for the strength to enter the kitchen. To open the door to the microwave would mean having to confront the “You” whose shameful Brain Problem created the unblinking, awful scent polluting his home, and reconcile with this “non-self”. And then from the other side of the threshold he would have to face the ‘Torturer’ who stands at that door, realize it’s himself under “black mask / in spite collar” and steel himself for the exchange:
‘What did You come here for?’
And You said,
‘Whatever You need me for.’
And I said,
‘I don’t know what You’re for.’”
Questions of internal orientation on A Distant Fist Unclenching are always simultaneously questions of how we interact with the world: the debate over punishment in ‘Torturer’ involves the same “othering” that the moral debate in ‘Fly’ is centered on – that is, whether the virtues of mercy or judgment are even relevant when it comes to something as seemingly trivial as the life of a flipped-over bug. Structurally, ‘Fly’ is signaled as a prelude in its own right by the low-fi buzzing layered over the vocals and instruments, which crosses over into the first few seconds of ‘Torturer’ before cutting out. So ‘Fly’ provides the anecdote which provokes the abstract deliberation of ‘Torturer’, and then the circle is closed with the same (brilliant) drum fill ending both songs. Though they involve different characters in different orientations (“Furman” self to “fly” non-self vs. “Furman” self to “Furman” non-self), this percussive denouement links them as two ways of understanding the same moral conundrum. Lyrically, the fate of the “fly / who couldn’t” is left up to the listener, with Furman asking, “you… / knowing what you do of me / what do you… / think I chose?” But Becker’s fill certainly sounds like Furman’s ‘Foot’ falling onto the ‘Fly’… the fuzzy note Furman’s been strumming is squashed and all that’s left is droning feedback, mimicking the slow, twitching death of a swatted fly, the music positing a hypothetical outcome in which Furman decides to act with judgment instead of mercy. So the crime is committed and Furman is faced with his Torturer. . . then what? Is Furman now the fly, sentenced to equal suffering at the hand of a huge, unblinking “non-self”? But wait, isn’t that a collar on the Torturer’s neck? And isn’t that Furman under the mask? Who sent the orders in the first place. . . ? The “I’s” and “You’s” get confused – and in the end Becker’s simulated footfall returns and something is crushed.
I could continue evaluating each song in the Adam West school of hermeneutics,** but the real point here is to give an idea of how narrative is formed on the album. The whole system of meaning-making is constructed with a respect for everything Krill’s chosen medium is composed of — vocal inflection, sound effects, time signatures, grammar, verse, diction, repetition, motif, leitmotif, etc., etc. There’s clear evidence that a lot of thought — or maybe just sheer intuition — has gone into the implementation of these techniques, working in conjunction to go beyond just making songs that sound “cool” but actually guide us toward something. And that thing, as with most great ‘novels’, is the writer itself as an individual we can understand intimately through art. On Lucky Leaves’ ‘Purity of Heart’, Furman describes how fucking hard it is “to will to be someone who isn’t not you,” but the complex inter-connectedness of A Distant Fist Unclenching gives us a distinct impression of what it might feel like to spend 45 minutes inside a brain belonging to no one else but Krill. Instead of having it or its failure to cohere simply described to us, musical and lyrical expression moves toward transcending the limitations language imposes on our ability to connect. And so maybe the brain starts to overcome some of its problems after all?
A Distant Fist Unclenching beckons the listener to follow all of these internal connections through — to trace the intersecting veins that run against its tendons. The furthest I can take my above argument about ‘Fly’ is to link its sonic death to that of the fly Furman remembers having watched “wriggle and twitch and then die” in ‘It Ends’. He says that over the course of its struggle he “never once bat a grieving eye”, and perhaps we can see when the “huge, unblinking eye”, the reflective surface that is all we see of the Phantom, stopped shutting.
But then there’s the fact that the fly in ‘It Ends’ was swatted by Furman’s ‘Mom’, and then all the meaning of that song has to color every step along the way and further, further towards an “answer” to what this album is about. And that’s about where the vein slips too deep under the skin for me. I can guess that line probably has to do with ‘Mom’s’ chorus of “Why would I stop you? / How could I stop you?”, but beyond that I get too exhausted. Not that continuing isn’t a worthwhile effort — to be able to grasp something and choose not to is just laziness — but if you’re squeezing your fist just to make the veins bulge, then it’s kind of pointless. You can try to understand another person’s perspective but you can never actually be them — there are always going to be lines like, “I thought you had meant Boston when you said you were moving back East” that only really mean anything to Furman. If you’re a member of Impose’s “Cult of Krill” then maybe you’ll read a crazy amount of interviews with Furman and get an idea of what he’s referring to, but what’s the point? The important shit is there whether you can see it or not…none of what Krill’s saying is so esoteric that you won’t be able to find it inside yourself someday. The endeavor isn’t to connect all the dots, but to at least reciprocate the gesture that Krill offers: to come outside of yourself and explore how this non-self might not be so unfamiliar. As long as you’re willing to do that you understand enough.
A Distant Fist Unclenching wouldn’t be so honest of an attempt to communicate Krill’s ‘Self’ if it didn’t include all of Krill. So we see a lot of previous Krill imagery return: tortured by his ‘Brain Problem’, Furman remembers a simultaneous wish to die and “live forever” — the latter of which concludes Steve Hears Pile’s ‘Turd’ as a possibility to finally find happiness. . . The walk he wills himself to take in Lucky Leaves’ ‘Purity of Heart’ is what leads him to the ‘Fly’, his footsteps “spooking” it into flipping onto its back. . .
The peach pit his soul transforms into despite the lingering feeling that ‘I Am The Cherry’ from Alam No Hris is the opening image of ‘It Ends’: The peach “dangled and plopped down” from the tree that both Twig and Grass imagine themselves to be in ‘Purity of Heart’ — maybe even the same tree Furman wants to climb as a ‘Squirrel’, or be, or be the view that squirrel might see from it — and we understand that the desire at the heart of Krill’s music has always been the same, clenched or unclenched. The peach falls and even though Furman explains, “I’ve been allergic since I was sixteen,” — the same age at which he both chose to develop his ‘Brain Problem’ and realized he’d always had it — he still affirms, “but I wanted to set the pit free.” And then all of the images and ideas A Distant Fist has been clenched around slip through the fingers.
All of A Distant Fist Unclenching’s anxiety is held in conflicts like this one –- choices presented over and over again that illustrate the deep, lacerating costs of self-discovery, the threat of becoming lost in ambiguity and possibility, and the question of whether “discovery” is really even the goal one should set for one’s “self”. In Furman’s own words:
“The fist unclenching is what happens after a tortured moment. It’s how to move from that anxiety without being too naïve or too cynical — without being happy-go-lucky or saying, ‘Fuck it, nothing matters.’”
All of the self-reflection and maturity that results in an album like this cohering the way it does – somehow having the faith to, despite the tortured moment, begin to draw a line between “what is a brain problem –- and what is juuuuuuust… me.” — finally rewards the “Me” with the rare ability to go beyond just describing the circumstances surrounding the Problem, and paint “You” a picture of what it might look like when the fist finally begins to unclench.
*A lot of blogs are transcribing this (because again, Krill isn’t giving us the lyrics) as “my non-self”. I’ve listened to this verse several time and I still hear “known”, but I’ll go with the blogs this time just in case. But thinking about the dynamic of a “self” vs. a “known self” is just as intriguing, and I would say just as relevant to this album.
** Robin: But wait! It happened at sea! See? “C” for Catwoman!
Batman: Yet… an exploding shark was pulling my leg!
Gordon: The Joker!
O’Hara: It all adds up to a sinister riddle. Riddle-er. Riddler?
Last Sunday, 1/25, the students of WMFO elected their next Executive Board, the members of which will be active in their new positions starting in summer 2015. Here are the new board members and their respective positions:
General Manager: Ben Stern**
Assistant General Managers: Joe Palandrani** & Shreenath Bhanden
Programming Directors: Jane Acker** & Hunter Howard**
Music Director: Alex Golin*
Publicity Directors: Deena Alexander* & Haley Short
Ops Director: Daniel Meyer
Volunteer Coordinators: Ceili Hale** & Mollie Beek
Training Director: Jon Garcia
Facilities Director: Ben Tanen
Archivist: Madeline Doctor
Ticketing Coordinator: Daniel Komanoff
Booking Coordinator: Hannah Levin
Events Coordinators: Daniela Torres* & Alex Spring
New Media Officer: Helen Sibila
Sandbox Director: Jamie Juviler
*Continuing 2014-2015 Exec Board position; **On 2014-2015 Exec Board, but in a different position than listed for 2015-2016
Looking forward to another great year of freeform!
Hey friends of WMFO!
Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the 2014 WMFO Donations Drive and made it such a smashing success. We made our goal of $5000 and we couldn’t have done it without your help!
Boston Calling, the illustrious year-old Greater Boston music festival, is back for a third round and has at last finalized their line-up with a real treat: The Decemberists are going to be in town for their one and only tour date of 2014.
February’s arrived, and that means things are thawing out here in good old Massachusetts. In an effort to equally thaw out my music collection from having approximately one playlist on repeat all winter, I’ve been on the hunt for new bands and new albums to keep track of.
An old favorite of mine to find bands has been NPR’s First Listen series, which has historically hosted a lot of amazing albums before they were available for public release – including Grouplove’s Spreading Rumours, among others. Spotify and Pandora also have their place in my heart, shiny bite-sized sampler tables that they really are.
But I’m not here to talk about those. I’m here to talk about my latest online music-aggregating obsession: NoiseTrade.
At a freeform radio station like WMFO, we support all sorts of creative endeavors – large, small, and in-between. However, some stand out. Some people and organizations make headway in the creative world at astounding rates and experience astounding growth because of it. They’re cropping up more and more often of late, these meteoric rises, with companies like Netflix expanding their brand to include their own TV shows, indie bands like Young the Giant going from a Facebook page of 3000 likes and a few free songs floating around the internet to almost half a million likes on Facebook and an endlessly full tour schedule, and devices like the Kindle and iPhone making it easier to be a content creator than possibly ever before.
This ease of spread, however, comes with some pitfalls. More and more people are creating things, so competition to actually succeed is stiff and it can seem like many people are out of the running before they even begin. When there’s so much talent out there, we tend to devalue our own, even though the people who make the media that we are constantly inundated by had to start somewhere. With that in mind, what is it like to make something wildly successful from scratch, after all?
“Great,” according to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. “It feels great.”
WMFO will be DJing some events on campus during Orientation Week, so look for us at the following:
Thursday, 8/29/13: Jumbolicious Carnival, 11pm-1am, Aidekman Arts Center
Friday, 8/30/13: Food Fair, 5:15pm-7pm, Fletcher Field
WMFO Dance Party, 11:30pm-2am, Hotung Cafe, Mayer Campus Center
Welcome, Tufts 2017!
“I’m sure we’ve all got stories about how vinyl changed our lives.” So opens “Solar Vinyl Compactor” the third track on Eponymously Entitled. The second release from the Bubbles in the Thinktank label, Eponymously Entitled is a record about records for record store day. It is a cleverly assembled seven-track compilation (with two bonus tracks) packed full of nostalgia and in-jokes about a music culture I never experienced.