Some Songs Considered #050: Relating to our Fellow Creatures
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
“Did we not meet your expectations?” Fellow Creatures asks towards the end of their debut, eponymous album.
The short answer: “No, you surpassed them.”
For those who have been in DC longer than I, one of the most notable aspects of the band Fellow Creatures (i.e. vocalist/keyboardist Sam McCormally and vocalist/guitarist Will McKinley-Ward) is that they represent the reformation of beloved and retired indie folk-pop outfit Ugly Purple Sweater – a product of the folksy wave of the mid to late 2000s known for light-hearted local anthems like “Jumbo Slice”# and “DC USA”#.
Armed with only this background and two demos to chew on for the past 17 months, I was originally worried that everything from the adorable name ‘Fellow Creatures’ to the use of a toy piano on stage pointed toward an act that was rehashing the tropes of the baroque folk-pop genre that peaked in 2005…
Instead, there’s a compelling genrelessness (new word?) throughout Fellow Creatures that’s hard to nail down, but which represents itself in repeated dualities; a constant pull between darkness and light, sinister and playful, analogue and electronic. The sound is complex, yet not dense or abstract. It is often beautiful and inviting, but just as frequently unsettling.
Sam McCormally explained to me via email:
“I tend to think that pretty and sinister are heightened by relief, which is to say, a squall of feedback can be more sinister atop a pretty chord progression…
It’s almost a question of trust: Is this song just trying to manipulate me into feeling a certain thing, or does it have something to say?”
Below the surface Fellow Creatures seems to be constantly straddling a playful sentimentality and an ominous sense of existential exploration, turning this entire album into a mouth-watering puzzle.
The year and a half that it took to complete this album have produced 10 enchanting and intellectually-substantial tracks that should (and hopefully will) transcend the DC music scene that these musicians once defined themselves by.
The album opens with “Try Not To Think About It,” in which Fellow Creatures effortlessly displays their prowess in songwriting and alternative indie folk – clear, simplistic guitar emotes alongside a flawlessly falsetto vocal delivery and some deft electronic manipulation. But while this track, like elsewhere on of the album, is sprinkled with moments of romanticism and sweetness, Fellow Creatures aren’t pigeonholing themselves into such narrow themes simply because of their ability to make lullabies on par with the Fleet Foxes.
“Try Not To Think About It” is steady, sweeping, and beautiful, but it ultimately addresses the existential implications of climate change…
They say it’s no accident, they saw it a mile away/ The ocean will rise, the sun will burn a hole in your skin one day
Not exactly your run of the mill rock/folk/indie subject matter, William McKindley-Ward confesses: “We have a weakness for contrasting narrative and musical moods.”
It’s a cautionary tale meant to sneak up on you with the sonic delivery of a lullaby.
And then, after the last poignant pluck of guitar, the second track, “Silurian Stomp,” aggressively kicks in the door.
The same clean, piercing guitar becomes an energetic, driving force tinged with ominous anxiety. The fully-saturated sound of the first track carries over, only this time it’s loud and dark and cathartic. “I just love rippling, claustrophobia-inducing overdrive,” admits Will. “Songs that whipsaw you back and forth between a massive A section and a refreshing B section.”
“Silurian Stomp” is a brash tribute to the early aquatic life on earth that first crawled out of the oceans nearly 400 million years ago, and while the song’s brazen but inventive sound remains a bit of an outlier on the album, this exploration of the overlooked, mysterious, and occasionally sinister bits of our world is, in fact, not.
“Silurian Stomp” is followed by “Wouldn’t You Like to Know,” which holds a bizarre backstory of band lore. Detailing a night on tour when the band intended to crash with a few guys who turned from inviting to inexplicably enraged at the drop of a hat, the Jekyll-and-Hydian metaphor studies the unprovoked beast-like nature of even the most seemingly normal people:
And if we don’t let all our of anger out /It’ll just build up it’ll all pour out /Gonna chase you down gonna eat you up /And then spit you back when the fire goes out.
These uncommon portraits of people and nature create the world of Fellow Creatures; one that is, first and foremost, grounded in poignant yet often disquieting realism.
Trauma, discrimination and loss all find their way into this album underneath Fellow Creatures’ enchanted combination of folky electronic music. Even the band’s take on fantastical subjects like Ouija boards, cult leaders, and alien encounters comes off as heart felt and level-headed discussions of our most human qualities.
The album ends with “Beamships,” a surprisingly gorgeous tribute to UFO sightings. However, the song forgoes the twee whimsical or excessively sci-fi approach and instead gives the listener an almost heart-breaking picture of the human reaction to the unknown…
When asked about the idea behind the track, Will elaborates:
“‘Beamships’ is about dealing with doubt, both from others and reflected inwards. I find that pretty universally relatable…
We’re all at least a little seduced by the unbelievable, right?”
It’s the perfect bookend to an album that starts with an exploration of the equally mysterious beginnings of life of earth and ends with an uncertain encounter with whatever exists beyond our world.
Fellow Creatures is sprinkled with reminders of Random Nerds favorite Louis Weeks (who was already going to be threaded into this review even before I saw that he co-produced the album). On “Wouldn’t You Like to Know” and “Life Alone” Weeks’ influence introduces a new take on the mature, late 80’s ‘Paul Simon school of folk-pop’ he explored in his 2015 album haha. But where Weeks took this lush, perfectionist pop style and twisted it into uncommon, jazz-like arrangements for his own album, here it serves to contrast the deeper, darker uneasiness of Fellow Creatures (and Fellow Creatures).
I will try my best not to gush, but this album is set to be one of the strongest efforts to come out of our city this year. I highly recommend any DC readers make plans to attend their release show next Friday the 15th at Tropicalia.
See you there.
Random Tracks from Random Nerds:
Kaytranda feat. Anderson Paak – “Glowed Up”
– Bryce Rudow (@brycetrudow)
Last week WCP dubbed Trillectro the “Best Music Festival of Washington DC” and while we here at Random Nerds ride-or-die for our DC to BC comrades, I think that later this month we’re all going to realize there’s a strong #2 coming up from behind…
This year’s Brocolli City lineup is insane, from the A+ headliner of Future to cred-heavy openers like The Internet and BJ Chicago the Kid. And tucked right there, an inconspicuous fourth in the billing, is the true future of hip-hop: Anderson Paak.
For those who have yet to become hip to Mr. Paak’s groove, check out his most recent and breakthrough album Malibu# (and then Chunky Glasses’ episode on it, with guests Marcus Dowling and Marcus Moore).
For those who have already wondered multiple times if it’s wrong to assume that if she can’t dance then she can’t ooh, enjoy his recent feature on Kaytranda’s latest single:
“Music ain’t music without soul.” – Schoolboy Q
Bleached – “Sour Candy”
– Justin McCarthy (@JustinSMcCarthy)
Cali trio Bleached just dropped one heck of a sonically diverse album for a group associated with sparse garage rock. Welcome To The Worms finds the band operating on a spectrum from dingy proto-punk to full-on Cheap Trick stadium rock, and it’s here that they really shine.
“Sour Candy” is a hook-laden anthem that trades nonchalant cool points for a shot at the major key guitar rock title.
Good > Cool.
Open Mike Eagle – “Check to Check”
– Noah Berlatsky (@nberlat)
Editor’s Note: Check out Noah’s piece on Random Nerds this week about The “Sparks Conversation” Defense
“Check to Check” is Mike Eagle’s bleak vision of a dystopic future in which humans are buffeted about from digital screen to digital screen by the random whimsy of computer algorithms. No one will have a moment to stop and smell the roses or the geese or the muppets.
I would write more, but I have to check Twitter now. Hellllllpppppp!
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