Can you be sort? With this half-whispered query, Oliver Kalb opens the brand new Bellows album, Fist & Palm. It’s a frail assertion that issues aren’t going all that nicely, that this album has a topic and that topic has dedicated a betrayal.
What follows is a collection of songs that try and reply that preliminary query. Fist & Palm is an idea album revolving round a damaged friendship, and all 11 tracks probe on the microfractures that prompted it to interrupt within the first place. Kalb evaluates these tiny schisms via his singular model of orchestral pop, creating large preparations to attain the small dramas in his lyrics. If you’re to endow the album’s cowl with any nice which means, it’s useful to see it as a jumbled street map: a collection of pit-stops alongside the best way to the top of a friendship that when meant a lot. It’s an trustworthy, wide-open pop album that feels like nothing Bellows has beforehand launched, however with a view to admire Kalb’s achievement, it’s essential to return to the start.
Bellows started when Kalb was a scholar at Bard College within the Hudson River Valley. It was there that he met Gabrielle Smith (Eskimeaux), who launched Kalb to the music of Phil Elverum. Kalb had solely performed in rock bands up till then, and that second proved to be a transformative one, because it has for therefore many self-produced indie tasks of the previous decade.
“The Microphones and Mount Eerie were this life-changing musical discovery,” Kalb tells me over espresso at Greenwich Village’s Cafe Reggio, a number of blocks from the place he went to highschool. “[Elverum’s] songs work according to pop dynamic progressions but seemed so mysterious and foreign to me… nothing on [those albums] sounded the way an instrument would naturally sound.”
With that DIY aesthetic in thoughts, Kalb began recording songs in his bed room, ultimately self-releasing Bellows’ debut LP, As If To Say I Hate Daylight, in the summertime of 2011, and embarking on tour with the Epoch collective, of which he’s nonetheless a member. (The album was ultimately re-released by Burst And Bloom, a small unbiased report label based mostly in New England.)
As If To Say I Hate Daylight is a dusty collection of folks songs largely constructed on acoustic guitar that Smith, Felix Walworth (Told Slant), and Henry Crawford (Small Wonder) all contributed to. It sounds lots just like the remoted, lovely world it was born of: Sweeping coming-of-age tales mingle with obscure illustrations of the pure setting that staged them. It’s merely rendered and quiet in locations, noisy and commanding in others. In reality, it’s fairly straightforward to listen to a few of Elverum’s Pacific Northwest echoed in Kalb’s Hudson River Valley — the choruses crash and crumble towards existential refrains that sound semi-sweet as compared. These are songs so embedded in a way of place that they lend themselves simply to metaphor: misty mountaintops, crunchy leaves in late autumn, snow so white it blinds you.
But Kalb moved away from the Hudson River Valley after graduating. He tried dwelling in numerous locations earlier than ultimately discovering himself again in New York City, the place he was born and raised. Bellows’ sophomore album, Blue Breath, got here out in 2014, and was recorded throughout that nomadic interval, “in five bedrooms across long distances,” as his Bandcamp describes it. You can hear that transience in Blue Breath, an album that spans emotional distance as readily because it does bodily. “Era of losing skin, showing up late just to make you interested/ Walls — leaning on the toilet seat/ Making diamonds of dreams that don’t come to me,” Kalb’s spoken word-like narration surfaces nearing the top of the title track over a cavernous, near-sinister beat. It’s the primary music on Blue Breath that approaches the unfamiliar — a glimpse of what’s to return.
Neither of those two albums fairly examine to Bellows’ forthcoming Fist & Palm. In retrospect, they sound just like the sluggish build-up thus far, the album that he’s been eager to launch for five-plus years. Like all Bellows releases, Kalb recorded the majority of Fist & Palm at house, fabricating songs and fleshing them out as absolutely as he might earlier than passing them off to different members of the Epoch collective for contributions. James Wilcox helped Kalb select new sounds to accompany or exchange his humbly-rendered MIDI tracks, and thru that course of, Kalb discovered about quantization. You can actually hear that in all the album’s drum tracks; they tower and increase, typically taking precedent over Kalb’s lyrics. Overall, these drums create a palpable friction, which is acceptable for an album that’s totally pushed by a state of rigidity.
Nowhere is that extra obvious than on “Bully.” It’s a track constructed on awkward silence, the push-and-pull of an influence dynamic lastly come to a head. “Bully” is Fist & Palm’s centerpiece, the second on this album’s memory-fueled story that provides listeners a way of its true function: self-reckoning, not reconciliation. “You couldn’t be my friend all last year/ I couldn’t be there for you either,” Kalb sings towards the top. “You had to black out on some liquor/ To not confront the basic idea/ We feel the same thing just as awful.” There are allusions to substance abuse all through, small particulars that pepper the album’s narrative and attribute them to a selected place and time. It’s relatable in its specificity: a pal hell-bent on self-destruction with nobody left to show to. Those particulars give “Bully” life, they remind us of pals and exes and relations who we’ve collectively fallen out with as a result of one thing simply wasn’t working anymore. This is just not a hopeful music — Kalb ultimately settles on a gaping realization that he “was nothing more than a bully” — and that’s sort of the purpose of Fist & Palm. Sometimes there’s no repair, typically issues keep damaged. But we have now to attempt to piece collectively these shards, honor them, earlier than giving up.
Listen to “Bully” and skim a Q&A with Kalb under.
STEREOGUM: I learn on Bandcamp that Fist & Palm is an album a few friendship, or it’s a few friendship falling aside. Did you write all of those songs meaning to make it that means, or did all of it simply come collectively as such?
OLIVER KALB: It was one thing that had been stewing for awhile. A sense that I needed to deal with — the dissolving of this relationship — however do it in a approach that wasn’t based mostly on like, expressing blame or wanting on the relationship as one thing that had been a single individual’s fault. The deterioration. So it was essential to me making the document that all the songs had type of a sense of dialogue to them. The music “Bully” is actually a duet, or a dialog between two individuals. And each time there’s blame put forth, there’s additionally a way that the identical degree of duty falls on me. All sorts of music that addresses the conflicts in relationships does so in a approach that feels very finger pointing, like: “This is pain that YOU caused, and it’s YOUR fault that I feel this way!” That’s a very drained method of taking a look at issues, and I needed to make a report that appears at a number of sides of the identical situation.
Both views coalesce on “Bully.” The album takes this excessive, downward plummet after that monitor; “Bully” is the climax when it comes to risk for decision of the battle, and the album after that falls into extra of, like, a desperation. Or a sense that the diploma to which issues have been screwed up is everlasting, as a lot as I might have appreciated to repair them.
STEREOGUM: It’s so totally different to listen to a pop album a few friendship, when a lot pop music is about romantic relationships and sexual relationships.
KALB: There are ways in which friendships can deteriorate a lot additional than like, romantic relationships, as a result of romantic relationships are one thing that we see as having a definitive finish. When it goes dangerous, it’s clear that you simply simply break up with somebody. With a friendship, there are minor methods you possibly can permit somebody to harm you that may go on for years with out being confronted, as a result of it feels informal. So in some methods, whereas making this album I used to be making an attempt to dredge up little moments of harm that have been brought about within the second that felt atypical. But I feel there are methods in day-to-day life that folks harm one another which might be onerous to even speak about or confront.
Breakup albums are a factor that’s been actually accomplished. I undoubtedly love plenty of them, and I do know there are actually intense feelings that may be expressed by means of that, however I don’t know, it feels virtually like a drained level. “We were in love, now it’s over.” There’s one thing totally different about somebody who you relied on to take a extra full place in your life then only a romantic or sexual associate. You know, to be collectively via many phases of life.
STEREOGUM: There’s a universality to pop music — it’s digestible and danceable — so selecting to make a pop album about one thing so distinctive to at least one expertise is an fascinating dichotomy.
KALB: That pressure is certainly current on the report. One of the explanations I really like pop music is that it’s so clear concerning the emotion that it’s making an attempt to precise. When you hear a pop track you instantly assume: “This reminds me of being in love,” or, “This reminds me of dancing.” There’s sort of a simplicity to the best way it’s expressing feelings and the document I made was so based mostly on complexities and gray areas of relationships that the musical facet of it being so simple as attainable or based mostly off of musical tropes that folks might determine as relatable and actually comply with in a extra visceral method, slightly than making the album weirder musically.
STEREOGUM: Was this battle occurring as you have been writing these songs?
KALB: There was this month final yr when a good friend of mine, David Combs (of Spoonboy) was establishing this large song-a-day challenge with just about each songwriter he knew, and there was this massive Facebook group the place everybody was alleged to submit their songs. I’d by no means executed one thing like that, and I used to be working on the stockroom of this clothes retailer on the time. So it was sort of this frantic rush to do a track, go to work, and are available house. Often there have been exhibits and stuff I needed to play in or go to. That was the busiest time of my life, however I really feel prefer it made writing the songs simpler. When you’re extra lively in your life it virtually turns into easier to be artistic — you don’t second-guess concepts as a lot. You simply type of roll with it. So, I wrote 31 songs for that and I feel seven of them ended up on the album.
“Orange Juice” was the second. That was written principally at Palisades, I feel it was throughout a Small Wonder present. I feel I had been at work all day and needed to provide you with a track actually shortly if I needed to do one which day so I used to be at this present and simply did it as a voice recording after which once I went house. I plugged on this actually easy beat, and simply sang the track over it. And that’s the track principally — simply the beat and the melody. Some elaborations have been added later, however that one got here out fairly fully-formed, and the lyrics are fairly easy. It’s only a pop track and it jogs my memory numerous the unique voice memo.
STEREOGUM: As poppy as this album is, there are moments that remind me of minstrel music in sure methods.
KALB: My mother got here from an Irish Catholic family, and she or he used to sing me a variety of conventional songs. I reply to people music in a very nostalgic means, or return to the tropes of European people and conventional music so much. I don’t take heed to music like that in any respect. The music I take heed to is usually pop and hip-hop, however there’s an intersection of folks and pop that I’m actually thinking about exploring. My inclinations with melodies come from people music principally, however my impulses with manufacturing come from modern music.
My one remorse relating to the early Bellows music is it’s so based mostly on acoustic guitar. That simply comes from it being the one instrument in my room, as a result of I by no means report in a studio. So often it’s like, a pc, an acoustic guitar, and perhaps a MIDI keyboard is all I’m working with. Those early Bellows recordings used acoustic guitar simply ’trigger that was the one instrument at my disposal, however perhaps that wasn’t truly the perfect instrument to love discover the musical concepts absolutely, or one thing? The early Bellows music is predicated on a number of people tropes that I’ve been capable of transfer previous with every successive album.
STEREOGUM: There’s a number of New York on this album. What’s your relationship wish to this metropolis now that you simply’re settled right here?
KALB: In the start, I considered Bellows as a rural band. On the primary report I used to be very a lot responding to the woods and the Hudson Valley as an area and type of the bizarre darkish thriller of strolling round by your self, getting misplaced in your ideas, making an attempt to entry the vastness of that area and type of like… I don’t know. It felt virtually like I needed to scrub away the person who had grown up in New York City pop-rock bands. Manhattan performed an enormous position in the best way that I grew up, however there was a time in my life within the first yr of school that I needed to not be that individual. When I ultimately settled in New York I discovered that I truly actually adore it right here and have such a robust connection to this place that I not need to run away from. So, in a number of methods this document was about rediscovering the town as a spot that might be a house for my artwork. And you understand, stay by way of New York City in a method that I had needed to channel the Hudson Valley in my older stuff. Even although Fist & Palm isn’t particularly about New York, I’ve undoubtedly gotten to a spot in my life the place I actually love the town. I need to reside right here and use it as an area that may create a world for me.
Bellows tour dates:
09/30 Brooklyn, NY @ Shea Stadium #
10/22 Portsmouth, NH @ 3S Artspace ^
10/24 Toronto, ON @ Silver Dollar Room ^
10/25 Lakewood, OH @ Mahall’s ^
10/26 Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen ^
10/27 Minneapolis, MN @ seventh Street Entry ^
10/28 Omaha, NE @ Milk Run ^
10/30 Denver, CO @ Lost Lake Lounge ^
11/01 Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court ^
11/02 Boise, ID @ Neurolux ^
11/03 Walla Walla, WA @ Billsville West ^
11/04 Vancouver, BC @ 333 Clark ^
11/05 Seattle, WA @ The Vera Project ^
11/06 Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios #
11/07 Eugene, OR @ The Boreal ^
11/09 San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop ^
11/11 Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg Theater ^
11/12 Phoenix, AZ @ Rebel Lounge ^
11/14 Austin, TX @ The Mohawk ^
11/15 Dallas, TX @ Club Dada ^
11/16 Jackson, MS @ Big Sleepy’s ^
11/17 Nashville, TN @ The End ^
11/18 Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade ^
11/20 Durham, NC @ The Pinhook ^
11/21 Washington, DC @ DC9 ^
11/22 Philadelphia, PA @ PhilaMOCA ^
11/23 Somerville, MA @ ONCE Somerville ^
# Record Release Show w/ Sharpless, Sitcom and Paper Bee
^ w/ PWR BTTM & Lisa Prank
Fist & Palm is out 9/30 by way of Double Double Whammy. Pre-order it here.