At its core, “Come Back To Life” is a bubbling indie-rock song that crosses Silver Jews folkiness with a LVL Up-esque build. However, it features instruments like the stylophone, the kaossilator, the khan, the accordion, the MIDI organ, the recorder, and of course, the triangle—plus a dozen more, as well as three different vocalists—that make it into a beautiful jumble of baroque pop and orchestral rock.
It’s tasteful maximalism presented with DIY earnesty. Songwriter Dan Francia, who’s played in Brooklyn bands for years now and currently tours with gobbinjr, holds a compositional role on his first “solo” full-length. That descriptor is in quotes because all but two songs on the record (out 1/25/19) feature collaborations with clusters of his Exploding In Sound peers. This track alone, which we’re streaming below, sports contributions from members of Big Ups, gobbinjr, Ava Luna, Human People, lost boy ?, and more.
It’s a celebration of some of the greatest minds in NYC’s indie underground, and you can stream it below:
Dan Francia’s “Stereotype” is a whimsical, light-hearted rock bopper from his pending full-length debut, Come Back To Life. As a bassist heavily inspired by Mike Watt, his first solo record (after many years spent playing in Brooklyn’s Flagland) is an inclusive ode to the New England music scene, featuring an enormous cast of musicians and friends. “Stereotype” alone involves 11 collaborators, from established musicians from groups such as Ovlov, gobbinjr, Fits, Titus Andtronicus, to budding artists like Shea Stadium organizer Nora Dabdoub, who makes her musical debut on lead vocals with an experimental groove and unique structure.
“Stereotype” opens with a radiant pop keyboard melody and bounces into its own world of strange but well-orchestrated bliss. The arrangement evokes the spontaneous and communal nature that brought it to be. "One night I decided to play around with my roommate's keyboard she had recently acquired,” Says Francia, “I ended up writing three tracks for the album that night, all on the keyboard.” The finished product was born from and even includes the original voice memo recording that Francia made that night.
This collage-like buffet of instruments, recording styles and artistic visions renders “Stereotype” a fun, eclectic and pleasantly unconventional track. His collaborative record, Come Back to Life, carries a theme of resilience and togetherness, of perseverance in a deeply flawed world with the help of loved ones. It’s a record to help people see that there are still beautiful things, people, and ideas in this world.
With the help of friends, Dan explores what it means to truly be alive, both light and dark, free of restrictions, and open minded in every way. Come Back to Life is due out January 25th via Exploding In Sound Records.
For now, give the lead single, “Stereotype” a spin (or several) here at phluff.
I first started getting into music when I was in middle school and, pretty soon after that, I started playing guitar, because my step-dad played guitar. That was eighth or ninth grade, and because I was just getting into guitar, I started getting into Jimi Hendrix; I feel like this story is so cheesy, but it’s the truth, and I guess you can’t hide from the truth. Listening to Hendrix, I heard Mitch Mitchell’s playing, and I had never heard drums played like that before. I felt this shift in me—I wanted to play drums.
I think, also, I got a little discouraged with guitar. With guitar, it was always about shredding and being the best player—especially at that age—and I didn’t really have that many friends who were girls who played music, so it always felt like some sort of competition. Also, I was just completely bored learning scales. I was like, “This isn’t fun. I just want to learn Green Day songs and jam.” I think I was too shy to write my own songs, and I didn’t want to be a singer. I thought that if I play drums, I can still be a part of music, but I don’t have to write and be the focus, because that’s too much for me. Playing drums was just fun, and there was an energy to playing that felt exciting in a way guitar didn’t.
I can’t remember the exact moment I became obsessed with drums, but I know that I had begged for a drum set for Christmas for forever, and then once I got one I was obsessed. I wanted to learn the exact parts of my favorite drummers; I wanted to learn their exact fills. I think I’m attracted to how drummers can sound so different while using the same tools, and how you can really express yourself so loudly; I just wanted to learn their language. I learned the punk stuff from Travis Barker and Tre Cool, then that kind of hypnotic style from Geoff Barrow from Portishead, all the fast shreddy stuff from Zach Hill and Brian Chippendale, and then, later, just tried to take everything I could from jazz players like Max Roach and Gene Krupa.
When I joined Stove, I was already a really big fan of Ovlov—I knew them from The City EP—which is funny to think about, that there was a time where I was like, “Ovlov’s playing? Oh my god, I’ve got to go!” They were always breaking up and then getting back together, and I was always missing my chance to see them. I played in this band called Butter The Children that played a couple shows with Ovlov, and we had this drum beat that was very similar to the one in their song “The Well.” So Steve Hartlett asked me to fill-in for Ovlov for a couple months, and I was super psyched, but then we just got along really well and played together really well.
When Steve told me Stove was happening, he said that he wanted me to play in it. I was really excited about it. He already had people from Washer playing with him, and I was doing other projects then, so it took a while to come together. At first, I saw it as me just playing these parts, because it’s Steve’s thing and he writes a lot of the drum parts, but then we started to get a little more comfortable with each other and it became a little less formal. Steve isn’t super precious about his songs. If he has a new song, there’s this unspoken trust that I can come up with my own parts and that it will work.
Playing in Stove, I start thinking of every option and not just going with my first instinct. How busy can it get? How simple can it get? How can I meet in the middle? Then Steve would ask me to sing on songs, and I slowly started picking up the guitar again and brought those songs to Stove. That’s how “Duckling Fantasy” came together.
I’ve been in Stove for a long time and it’s sort of like a long term relationship—there’s ups and downs, and it can be complicated, but I’ve tried to find a way to explain why playing with Stove is so special and different from other things. It’s been hard to explain, but what I’ve realized is that I feel like I can be myself when playing this music. It doesn’t ever feel like I have to do things I don’t want to do with Stove. There’s so many times people have asked me to play drums in their band, but they just want me to play like someone else. And I can do that, but it’s just not as fun, and I don’t think it’s as pure or genuine as what I get to do with this band. Steve never puts pressure on me. Even if I fuck up horribly at a show, he wouldn’t say, “You fucked that up.” It’s just like, “Who cares? It’s fine.”
With Stove, there’s never a time where it feels like a chore or a job. When I started playing in bands, it was just with my friends and for fun, and Stove feels that way to me, too. That’s part of why I’ve been into guitar now and writing again, because it feels like a comfortable space and like a release again. Music is such a weird language, and it can be a hard thing to communicate. But with Stove, it’s just easy. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s how rare that is to find.
Hear First is Talkhouse’s series of album premieres. Along with streams of upcoming albums—today’s is Mister Goblin’s Final Boy—we publish statements from artists and their peers about the mindsets and impressions that go into, or come out of reflection on, a record. Here, Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz, Sad13) shares her thoughts on men in rock and her friend Sam Woodring’s debut solo EP, which you can also listen to right here.
—Annie Fell, associate editor, Talkhouse
What’s it like to be a man in rock? There was a microsecond when I thought I might know, back when my band played all-basement, all-boy tours with the musically kindred East Coast friends who comprised Exploding In Sound’s early roster. In the intervening almost-decade, women take up a lot more space, both at EiS and in rock at large; at a parallel pace, a lot of those aforementioned all-boy bands have called it quits (or called it hiatus, a rose by any other name). Many of these bands’ lyrics were philosophical, conscious, aware of and pushing back against the political context in which they were released—I’m thinking of bands like Krill, Grass Is Green, LVL Up, Big Ups, and Two Inch Astronaut—which is why it’s no shock that many of my ex-tourmates have gone into community organizing, or social work, or other crucial roles outside of the music world. But for the most part, no matter how woke, my frontmen friends (maybe Ted Leo excluded) rarely had to write or speak about their gender in a substantive way. It’s a luxury that, as A Woman In Rock™, I’ve resented.
So I’m tickled that Mister Goblin, the newest solo project from Two Inch Astronaut’s guitarist and lead singer Sam Woodring, has chosen Final Boy as the title of its debut EP. Of course it’s a play on the horror trope of the “final girl,” in which the slasher flick ends after a triumphant woman outsmarts the killer, surviving at least until the next sequel. But Sam goes hard on a double meaning, and I can’t help thinking his title’s tongue-in-cheek, a reference to the shifting demographics in our scene. Of the bands that filled up Exploding in Sound’s first dozen-or-so releases, Sam’s pretty darn close to the final boy.
Not like Two Inch’s music was exemplary of outdated rock machismo. Cello, barbershop harmonies, and some sensitive-ass songs hallmarked their prolific discography, which was uniformly great in both the songwriting and playing. But Mister Goblin as a solo project doesn’t have to adhere to the sonic constraints of a band—folk fingerpicking and nu metal-lifted chorus and drum machines happily cohabit here—and as a solo artist, Sam only has to speak for himself. It’s so unusual for a man in rock to even reference what it’s like to be one—the implications of your gender, the space you occupy, and whose space you might be taking up—and I think that’s why Sam’s interrogative lyrics betray a self-conscious insecurity, as on “Nothing You Do (Happens),” when he sings, “nothing that I do happens to you, or anyone for their entertainment, or any reason.” He seems to grapple with whether, in this day and age, anyone should be listening to him at all.
But I’m listening to Mister Goblin, and I’m glad you are too. These songs make twists and turns and hit all the right unexpected notes to build to a chorus that you wake up with in your head, again, for the fifth day in a row, and then you’re pissed about it, and then you have to listen fives times more. Lyrically, there’s a wonderful narrative sensibility, storytelling that lights up on small, color-saturated details (“time of year the tomato plants are wilting/and you get ready to join the family plot” on “Be Right There”). But they also delight in associative punnage, like “skip to my losing” off “Night Lighting.” Creepy characters fill the scenes, hand in hand with that genre buff title; these are sweet and gentle songs, but not a single one goes by without death, dying, blood, vampires, chupacabras, or Lucifer. And that’s OK, because even with sweet people in the world trying to do the right thing, a lot of the planet is pretty dark.
A lot of that darkness is because of our disappointment—not just women’s disappointment, everyone’s disappointment—in the men who were once our cultural vanguards and heroes. But as much as I love Woman World, it’s not like everyone with a coffee mug reading “Male Tears” actually wants a whole gender to be obsolete. It’s just that we don’t want EVERYONE ELSE OTHER THAN MEN to be saddled with the burden of talking about issues like consent and inclusivity and privilege. We don’t want to be the only ones trying to do better.
So those insecurity-signaling Mister Goblin lyrics are a relief, a signal of self-awareness I don’t hear too often, and a sign that non-men aren’t the only people questioning and trying. “Fixing it is a lonely thing to do, and it hurts as bad as a pat on the back for trying to be good,” Sam sings on “Fixing the Jokes.” And maybe it does hurt, but to me it feels like a good omen that he’s trying, too.
Earlier this year, Maryland emo-punks Two Inch Astronaut announced their indefinite hiatus after almost a decade. But the trio’s former frontman Sam Woodring is still releasing music under his new solo moniker Mister Goblin. Woodring returned two weeks ago to announce his forthcoming EP Final Boy and debut lead single “Be Right There.” He’s sharing its follow-up “Nothing You Do (Happens)” today.
The EP’s title is a twist on the term for the last girl left alive in a horror film. Following suit, “Nothing You Do (Happens)” inhabits a dark, creeping atmosphere that ends up snaking its way into a percussive, power pop chorus. It’s a poppier extension of Two Inch Astronaut’s punk experimentations. And Woodring’s lyrics trace an existential emptiness.
In an email, Woodring exposed the song’s meaning alongside his and producer Michael John Thomas III’s in-studio tinkerings:
“Nothing You Do (Happens)” is about the general sense of political and personal futility that I think a lot of people are feeling, and not assuming that that is going to be eternal. Me and Michael John Thomas III were listening to a lot of 21 Savage in the studio, so we decided to throw in some wacky digital hi-hats, which I thought turned out really neat.
Listen below. The Final Boy EP is out 12/7 via Exploding In Sound.