Features

INTERVIEW: Sleeplessinflatland on music, art, and his Precious Cargo

By Katiee McKinstry 

Forrest, also known as sleeplessinflatland, is an abstract visual artist and beatmaker from Norman, Oklahoma. In their latest project, Precious Cargo, they pay homage to their family and friends who they once referred to as precious cargo. In this exclusive interview with Eloquent Mag, Forrest delves into their past, present, and future; talking all about their music and career. 

From releasing music during the COVID-19 pandemic, to giving advice for aspiring artists, Forrest truly believes in the power of artistry. Having a somewhat conventional upbringing, Forrest finds solace in their art and is able to use it to inspire others across the globe. Primarily using Bandcamp to release their music, Forrest is able to create from anywhere and continue to grow in their art.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got started in your career.

A: Well, goodness… how does one reflect on themselves and then refract it to the unseen eye. All I’ve known is the impulses and stimuli this system of sinew provides. I live a semi-charmed kind of life, eyes half-opened, moments and lights flashing past my body. Pretentiousness aside, I adore waxing nonsensical, but in brief bursts of comedic relief between bouts of intense work periods. I enjoy working and creating, something I’ve done since I was a young child. I wanted to be a marine biologist for the longest time. One of my very first works was a painting of a giant squid, imitating the highly exaggerated, but cool old wood prints one would see in early records of the lovely creature. I lived in a world of wonder and fascination, where the grasshoppers were as big as my little arms, zipping out of the grass taller than me and grandma’s trailer, a yellow double-wide surprise where the world had left the edge of existence. 

Fast forward a decade and a half later, and once again my hair was long, in braids, my mood happy, in spite of poverty and homelessness. I didn’t see it like that, I was able to create at a moment’s notice, drawing and creating to pave my way. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to get a day job through a friend  and was finally able to move off the streets, using the job to fund my art and support myself for almost a decade, before purchasing driving lessons, attending broadcasting school, phasing myself out as I was doing any and all production work I could get, paying or non. At one time, my week would consist of anything from running a shift at Long John’s in the morning, PA/DJ for a local high school’s basketball and wrestling squads in the evening, then the next day I  was a roadie and stage hand for a local dj company. Eventually, I was simultaneously working at a local country radio-station as a board operator/ in studio producer for their football coverage on Saturdays, along with assisting my team in general management of the old shop I had been helping to run through the years as I phased out, working still at the dj/ live production company, on top of helping out with various productions with my mentor turned friend from the broadcasting school, Brad Reed. Time passed and I found myself on the promotions staff for the local radio stations, setting up radio remotes across the state, and operating as an audio technician or engineer for live radio remotes and shows. I did that until falling ill earlier this year and am still recovering.

Q: We are excited for your new project Precious Cargo. Can you tell us a little more about it?

Editor’s Note: Precious Cargo was released in 2020, the time of this interview.

A: Thank you! Precious Cargo has been in the works for a few years since I wrapped up it’s predecessor, Loose Change, a collaboration with fellow Normanite, Narono, that’s heavy on the boombap but with experimental and ambient flavors.

Precious Cargo is a progression from Loose Change in name and concept.

Loose Change was a joke between Narono and myself, the project theme being a trip to the laundromat, that these tracks were the loose change or tokens for the trip to the laundromat, or an experience of the trip.

Precious Cargo was born as a comment I had made to an old friend, referring to them and their family as “precious cargo.” I remembered this, and it stuck with me as a natural progression. With this next project, I wanted to make progress and learn to love myself, to value myself as much as I valued others, and to show it through this audio, writing much of it over the course of a couple years while on the road, or doing what needed to be done.

Q: In the new world of COVID, the internet is being utilized by musicians very differently. Many indie artists have been speaking out against big names like Spotify, in favor of places like BandCamp. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I release almost exclusively on Bandcamp. Especially with works, such as Precious Cargo, copyright laws will not allow for this work to exist on platforms, such as Spotify, especially in its current form. I hardly use Spotify, if I’m being entirely candid. I’ve been doing this since before I began sleeplessinflatland in 2014, before I really started sharing on the internet, and  I would likely be doing this in some form or fashion without it. But to say I would be where I am without it is misleading, because I can’t even begin to imagine where I would be without it, in terms of its effects on my tastes or in terms of the sheer amount of resources available online. 

Looking at these payolalike items that Spotify is currently doing, I already don’t pay for a subscription, so the chances of me shelling out cash out of my pocket or setting up a budget for that seems impractical. It’s not to say I wouldn’t put my music up there, should it be appropriate, because frankly, as artists or like with any other item, you have to go where the people are… Honestly, with me only having released for such a short time, I feel open to how I can really present the experience of my work or art, even if it’s only induced by a simple crappy graphic, some choice sarcasm and jokes, then the audio. So, with this spur of release here in 2020, it’s kind of the time to try and bust out of your shells, or to buck a so-called norm.

Q: Are there any other resources, similar to Bandcamp, that could be helpful for other indie musicians?

A: So many; in my opinion, it comes down to what you’re wanting 

and how much you want to do. You name the platform, there’s a community presence there, it’s just up to you to find it. Youtube is how I learned to produce (and learn tricks still), and Twitter is wonderful for networking. If there’s a platform, I’d highly suggest setting up a profile on it, whatever it is, and beginning to get to know the people there that have similar interests or goals like yourself. 

For instance, myself, when I was DJ-ing and employed by that DJ company, coming from an electronic, leftfield, and instrumental hip-hop background, I would find myself running into obstacles, especially maintaining a quality live production, especially with track selection. Eventually, I found out about Tunebat and with time, I was learning with experience. I find voicing my desires or needs, especially on Twitter, seems to show great results, whatever it is, just being open has yielded wonderful results.

Q: What are some other tools and platforms you are using to sell and promote other musicians in your community?

A: Personally, humor, openness, and some organization are my three go-to’s when it comes to promotions. It’s amazing the amount of times being objective and shamelessly happy about the music I do like, and supporting it however I can,  will simply present an opportunity.

Self-made videos, good and bad, definitely help, whether it’s a beat video or me turning around the camera on myself.

Lists are highly recommended on Twitter, especially to prevent the endless scrolling and resulting wasted time.  

Of course, if you’re  not consistent or actively interacting with other members in your community, these other items are rather hard to put into play.

I have profiles setup on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter , Soundcloud, Mixcloud, and likely others that slip my mind, but in order  to tie it all together,  I suggest using items like a link tree to help get the most out of a single link space.

One thing I’ve done, off and on throughout the years, is I host a segment or show I started while in school, where I would highlight friend’s music, and I always really loved doing that, so it’s something I’m definitely looking at getting back up and running.

Other items include, doing my amateur design or graphics work in a variety of styles inspired by or directly influenced by their own works, such as filming myself spray-painting as I listen, remixing someone’s audio, or sometimes just a simple stagnant image I drew, painted, photographed, along with a meaningful caption supporting them, sometimes something funny to grab a viewers attention, or even downright absurd, depending on the mood.

Q: What is something that you have overcome to get to where you are now?

A: There’s a lot I could pick from. I was homeless for several years before getting a job at the age of 19. I’ve had COVID twice this year, I was born with holes in one of my lungs. I take the philosophy of life is pain. But… My favorite is that of riding my bicycle daily on an intercity route to an old partner’s house, just pedaling along, headphones blaring, on the side of the highway.

Q: What is your favorite part of what you do? 

A: When I put those headphones to check what I’ve been working weeks on and it sounds like it did before I got sick this year.

Q: What is your favorite thing you’ve worked on thus far in your career?

A: Honestly… feeding my town for almost a decade at my old shop. I may have been human, an alcoholic, and slept in often, but once I woke up and helped to open the shop… I really came to love it.

It wasn’t just me though at all. There were so many people that helped.

Now if we’re talking visual arts, it’s probably this old two-dimensional wall art installation I had in an old studio apartment of the lady getting electroshock therapy in Requiem for a Dream, that had layers I could take off that would change its appearance to suit my mood.

A close second was a series I referred to as fractal pornography that is self explanatory. But when it comes to my audio pieces, I have to say it would likely be the track “Sister,” which actually samples my little sister and her high school choir in their last concert.

Q: What inspired you to start on your music journey? How have you used that inspiration throughout your career?

A: I was listening to tunes and party rocking quite terribly during my off time when I was first a general manager. We were no good. So I kept going.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone struggling to take the plunge into indie music? 

A: Just do you, don’t worry about what folks say, be objective. 

Connect with Sleeplessinflatland: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

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Music Reviews

ALBUM REVIEW: Wurdd Jenkins – Ellenswood

By Debesh Suvat

Ellenswood is a strange place. Look for it on a map, start in Scotland. Zoom in on West Fife. Zoom in much closer, and you’ll find it in the mind of Wurrd Jenkins (of Shadow People fame and whose comics appear in 100 percent Biodegradable, Something Wicked, Octal & Slice). I know, a little different to mention the comic credits for the lyricist of an experimental hip hop EP, but vital to the concept of the project itself.

Wurrd partnered with fellow Scots Kyle Meldrum (of Sunny Saltcoats) and Nunny Boy (of Ayrshire), who together form Voldo, as well as expat Scot Pineconesweetstones, now residing in Ilsan, Korea, to bring to life an idea fermented from his comic book writing days. For those who are unaware, this is already a heavy-hitting team, for example, you may recognize Nunny Boy from the group All Time High among other collabs and projects, including remixes of Rosie Gaines, Wendy James, and The Lovely Eggs (selected by Annie Nightingale to be featured on BBC Radio 1).

The exquisite production of Pineconesweetstones as mastered by Nunny offers rich, colorful layers of thoughtful substrata over which Wurrd’s words easily and skillfully tell an enchanting story. Perfectly offset by the smooth flowing melodic hooks of Kyle Meldrum, each song takes you to the same strange town, from a different moment and point of view, with unfaltering prowess in invoking the imagery of slippery cobblestone and askance villager glances initially conceived of ironically during a decade hiatus from music. Each member referred to their role as a breath of fresh air, and the synergy of every component within this musical trifecta provides the same fresh air for the listener on this spellbound journey.

Ellenswood is a perfect example of how you don’t have to be completely off the wall to be experimental, but utilize creativity, multimedia inclinations (just ask painter, wood/metal worker, sculptor, and musician Kyle Meldrum), and interpersonal connections to create something bigger and better. It is also a perfect microcosm of artists helping each other reinforce their love of the craft, and also in this, a snapshot of 2020, working together across thousands of miles to keep the fire lit. Anyone who really appreciates originality in hip hop would be remiss to not include this in their collection.

Connect with Debesh: Twitter

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New Year Preview

A New Year Advice Column

Physical activity doesn’t have to feel like a chore. Get up and move around!

By JD Brant 

If you’re anything like me, then you’re not the biggest fan of workout videos—YouTube tutorials included. Nothing beats the experience of live instruction in a group setting, music pulsating, bodies gyrating, and everybody’s having a jolly good time. While many gyms are reopening under COVID restrictions across the country, my social media tells a cautionary tale: Many people are expressing their concern over returning to their fitness routines under the restrictions. This is a perfectly fine emotion to feel, know why? You can work out anywhere. Know what else? You can have fun doing it.  

Instead of going the traditional route of posting websites of workout videos for you to follow at home, I thought I’d share some of my COVID workout tips for beating the bulge without a traditional gym membership. If it’s been a while since you’ve done any sort of exercise, worry not. These tips work well for people who want to ease back into the groove of things and for people who are sticklers for routine. 

Walk Where There’s Resistance

We consume more calories in the winter to keep our bodies warm. According to the American Journal of Human Biology, we also expend more energy when we exercise in the cold, thus burning more calories. That’s why walking in snow can provide just enough of a challenge for your body without overwhelming your muscles. Try finding a sidewalk or bike path with as little as three inches of snow to tread in. A little resistance will fire up your calves, heels, glutes, and more. I’ve been wearing a fit bit and tracking my progress. I shoot for a three-mile walk every morning, and when there’s little snow on the ground, I throw on a pair of beat-up boots and trudge through the muddy wilderness. The same effect, albeit a bit messier, but so worth it. 

Play With Your Cat

This tip might sound pretty basic, and maybe it is, but playing games with your pet has added health benefits for both you and your kitty cat. I recently purchased a laser pointer for my cat to chase around. The key is to ensure that your cat “catches the prize” at the end of the game. With no end goal, your cat can begin feeling anxious and frustrated over not being able to catch the light. Many pet health blogs suggest leaving treats around the room and aiming your laser point at those instead of a random spot on the wall or floor. As weird as it sounds, I’ve found that chasing my cat back and forth along with the laser pointer has given me a stronger sense of camaraderie with my kitty. Short bursts of activity help keep my cat and me on our toes. I did this for ten to fifteen minutes a day when I worked remotely and had time to play with her. I always end our rounds with a treat for her to gobble up, too.

Create Workout Challenges At Home 

If you’re spending more time at home amid looming COVID restrictions, why not spice it up? Heat your kitchen with your cooking skills and your boss dance moves. There’s a reason Zumba classes are popular—dancing feels less of a “chore” activity than traditional weight lifting and cardio classes. Dancing promotes the production of endorphins in the body. Marry that with another endorphin-boosting activity, cooking a scrumptious meal, and you’re in for a euphoric experience. While your asparagus is roasting, blast Megan Thee Stallion’s “Body” and see how many squats you can do in under two minutes. Sitting in front of the TV, watching a nightly news segment? Find out how many lunges you can do before they break for commercial. Disguise activity into your ordinary routine to make it feel more normal for you. At the beginning of the pandemic last year, I felt overwhelmed at the thought of going 45 minutes or an hour into straight aerobic activity. That’s why I’ve started to break that time up into ten-minute intervals during the day. It’s more realistic and feels much more manageable.

Become a Mover for Hire

It’s a well-known fact that fewer people move in the winter, but it’s the best time to move; moving companies charge 20-30% less for their services. Another workout suggestion: If you genuinely don’t care about making much money, join your neighborhood’s Nextdoor group and ask around to see who needs help moving for free. I live on a street pebbled with apartment complexes, and neighbors often help each other haul their furniture and belongings out in a pinch. Nextdoor is a beautiful way of fostering relationships with the people on your street without being intrusive. Be careful to plan out the day and time of the move and how long it will take to haul out more oversized belongings with your neighbor. This activity not only promotes physical health and fitness but you’re also nourishing your social wellness, too.

Self-care includes mental AND physical health. Exercise is proven to alleviate anxiety, depression, and more. Good exercise also doesn’t have to feel tedious or annoying. Spice up your routine and see what happens. Now, get to stepping!

Connect with JD: Twitter | Instagram

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SINGLE STREAM REVIEW: Anna Burch – ‘Your Heart May Be Heavy’

Photo courtesy of Polyvinyl Record Co. 

By JD Brant

Detroit crooner Anna Burch has released a spectacular holiday single for us all, “Your Heart May Be Heavy,” a delicate and glowing seasonal tiding that belongs in the scene of an old-timey romantic movie (or a modern-day Netflix version, maybe Dash & Lily), one where the couple takes a walk through Central Park and indulges in an innocent kiss under shimmering orbs. The single is the pause some of us are in need of, especially to ward off the ghosts of 2020’s past and remember simpler times.

2020 has been quite the year, but what many can agree on is that it’s put our priorities in check and made us more present and appreciative of the people and things we can enjoy in the now. Anna’s dreamy vocals are the pillow to our weary heads as 2020 comes to a close, and none of us want to look back. So put on your snow boots, pour some hot cocoa, and pull out your toboggan. 2021 is going to be one wild ride.

For more music from Anna Burch, visit Polyvinyl Records.

JD Brant is a music and culture writer from Buffalo, NY. Her work has appeared in PopMatters, The Good Men Project, and more.

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Womxn and Romance

There’s Nothing Wrong With Being Single at 30. Here’s Why. 

By JD Brant 

The first time I was aware that my status as a single woman made people uncomfortable was on a business trip to Boston a year and a half ago. We were nearing the end of our trip and waiting for our return flight home. The gaggle of girls I was traveling with sped up in front of the new hires (there were three of us), and headed for the gift shop at the other end of the airport. One of the lead sales people turned around, and with an agitated snarl, like a cat whose tail just got stepped on, said, “We’re stopping at the gift shop for a minute, because [dramatic pause]…we have husbands and children.” They skipped along their merry way, leaving the team of new people in their dust.

The insult was clearly hurled at me. I was the only single person in the new hire group. It stung. It stung when they rejoined the group later on in the seating area. It stung when we boarded the plane. It stung while I tried to nap on the plane, and couldn’t let go of that mini dagger (I first thought maybe I misinterpreted her comment, but after ruminating on it for a while, I realized that I was pretty accurate in my assumption) hurled at me with calculation. I was a threat—not because I did my job sufficiently, or because I refused to stay up and party in our hotel room (I can’t say the same for the sales team). It was because I was single, and they weren’t.

There’s this stigma that, once a woman hits a certain age, her eggs shrivel and her tits sag. I mean, biologically speaking, that’s true, but being single after 30 doesn’t mean you have to curl up in a ball and die, for real. If you ask me, life begins at 30 (I’ve picked up so many new interests, it’s exciting). Some studies call this unwed and childless state a marker of social infertility, and the trend exists in both womxn and men, for different reasons. Speaking from the womxn’s perspective, I can attest to two narrowly-defined stereotypes we are pegged as over the course of our singledom: the “Long Island Lolita” and the “Cat Lady.”

When I’m introduced to married or shacked-up couples, it’s either one of the two, with the man in the relationship asking me if I carry a lint roller everywhere I go (my neighbor’s boyfriend had assumed that because I was single, that I should probably adopt five cats, since I have all that time to spare outside of all my other responsibilities, don’t cha know) and the womxn in the relationship assuming that Rent-a-Mistress sent me (wherever that is, is it a real place? Not sure). These are two extremely dangerous and idiotic stereotypes that hinder womxn from flourishing during a period of well-deserved (and well-earned) self-growth. 

In a world where anxiety and internalized demons often nudge us toward codependency, singledom can also be perceived as uncompromised allegiance to the security of, and faith in, oneself. The more time you spend alone, the more time you have to wrestle with past insecurities, relationship flops, and general inquiries of the soul. This makes a person more steadfast in cultivating the life they truly want to share with another individual, a life of focused resilience.

When both people do this unglamorous but necessary legwork, it makes the relationship healthier in the long run. In doing my own introspective dirty work, I’ve been able to break the horrible habit of romanticizing partners before I actually get to know them past the “mystique” of casual exchanges. This is because I am fiercely independent, capable of loving strongly because I’ve been single for so long. But this is also the number one thing I believe so many adults continue to do while playing the dating game. They tabulate ideals and expectations in a pseudo match that may create resentment in their partner down the road, or, they offer up their love to the wrong person completely, without question. For the people who’ve done both, staying single makes sense.

If you’re 30 and single, it can mean that you’ve investigated yourself. It means you’re not interested in rushing into a situation that could cause anxiety, guilt, or resentment before you’re ready to. It means you’ve developed a love for things outside of a singular idea of love and an idealized concept of romance. More people are choosing to stay single longer, and so I feel that the media should simply back off of casting womxn and men into the “young, single, and sexy” spotlight; even with showers of compliments, there’s an inherent societal pressure thrust upon us to perform for friends, for family, for co-workers. Womxn like Mindy Kaling, an actress who manages to dodge the “hard-ass” career woman stereotype, shouldn’t be interrogated about what it’s like to be a single mother. Neither should feminist allies like Michael B. Jordan. From a journalist’s perspective, we should stop asking our few 21st-century “modern womxn” icons how it feels to be single and just let them live as single people. It’s not a deficiency. Singledom is a lifestyle, a healthy choice for healthy people.

CONNECT WITH JD: Twitter | Instagram

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Music Reviews

ALBUM REVIEW: MELD – Words of the Water

By JD Brant

Nashville’s got soul, and a helluva lot of it. I previously wrote about a handful of womxn-identifying musicians taking New Nashville by storm, and I’m continuing the love with an album drop from a soul singer whose pipes are the source of much envy. MELD (government name, Melanie Dewey) recently performed songs off of her August debut, Words of the Water, live from the iconic Music Marathon Works in Nashville. 

During her live set, the ocean spilled from the movement of interpretive dancers and poetry from soul strummers Katie Buxton, Amber Lily, and company. MELD donated money raised to The Ocean Cleanup, and it’s not the first time she’s used her platform for environmental activism. 

A born-again Janis Joplin and a true jambander at heart, MELD has rocked out with Zoogma, Brothers Past, and her band’s played at The Mothership Festival In Taos, New Mexico, and Sonic Bloom in Colorado. She’s done all of this while raising money for charities like OceanAid, Coalition For Clean Air, and Urban Green Lab, making every droplet count. 

On Words of the Water, MELD climbs into subtle and gentle falsetto patterns on “Colors” that are more aligned with Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” than Ariana’s “Oh Santa!” (although Mariah and Ariana hit a high note with their whistle register, for sure). On “Freedom,” the listener is offered melodic grooves and tinctures of color and flame, or maybe Sound & Color, as progressive jazz rockers Alabama Shakes would have it. The track is exceptionally climactic, and a cliffhanger ending swells with the magic of a sunset rising above crashing waves. 

Words of the Water certainly isn’t MELD’s first swing out of the park. Her 2017 album H.U.R.T. is smoldering with instant classics. “Leaving You Out” (the out-of-this-world remix I’m speaking of is here) is a radio bop with club appeal. At a heart-racing BPM and silky-smooth orchestration, the song’s mastering (by Anthony Thogmartin of Papadosio) is on the same level of quality as the producing chops backing Nashville megastars. Projects like Meghan Trainor’s Treat Myself, which splits discography credits among thirteen different producers, has a similar sonic bite.

On a personal note, MELD’s father passed away of cancer this summer, but before that time came, she was able to mobilize her social media forces and catch the attention of former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir and Dead & Company member John Mayer. Both members gave her father, a loyal deadhead, a 50th birthday shoutout on social media before his passing. 

You don’t have to be a Grateful Dead fan to get behind what MELD is throwing down. If you enjoy Joss Stone or Jewel’s earthy aesthetic, you’ll have no problem connecting to a song on her album. 

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Music Reviews

Alessia Cara Delights Fans with Surprise EP Holiday Stuff

By Katiee McKinstry

This past week, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Alessia Cara surprised fans with a holiday-themed EP, Holiday Stuff.

The EP features Cara’s past holiday hits, from covers such as “The Christmas Song” and “Moody’s Mood for Love.” Likewise, the EP also has Cara’s previous holiday hits including “Make It To Christmas” and “The Only Thing Missing.” However, “Make It To Christmas” got a makeover—the song sounds completely different from its original, Cara’s holiday treat to her fans. 

“Surprise! Holiday Stuff, a (very impulsive) 4 song EP of festive tunes coming to you midnight ET tomorrow,” Cara said on Twitter. “By me and the great Jon Levine.”

Earlier this year on July 17, shortly after her 24th birthday, Cara dropped a different EP called This Summer: Live Off The Floor. The EP featured live performances of the songs off of This Summer and three bonus tracks as well. This EP, as well as Holiday Stuff, are super special in that the proceeds from the EP sales (and Cara’s EP sales for the next 21 years) are going to Save The Children

“Alessia that was so good,” said a fan on Twitter. “The EP is fire. Go stream Holiday Stuff by Alessia Cara right now, like now.” 

Cara released Holiday Stuff via Canada’s biggest music company, Def Jam Recordings/Universal Music Canada. You can listen to Holiday Stuff on all major streaming platforms this holiday. Watch the video below for behind-the-scenes footage of the making of Holiday Stuff:


Katiee McKinstry is a music and culture blogger who has experience working with crisis center and DV shelter populations. For more of her work, visit her website.

CONNECT WITH KATIEE: Twitter

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Call for Submissions – New Year Issue

Details

Eloquent Mag is accepting poetry and short story submissions for its first New Year issue, slated for January 26 digital publication. We invite you to submit your literary work to our arts-based startup! For more information, visit our “About” page here.

Please submit up to three poems or one short story (you can submit to both categories) by January 15. “A New America” is the theme of the New Year issue. We will accept poetry on the following topics: Body politics, national & world politics, gender issues, pop culture criticism, race and social justice, science & the arts. Please include a brief bio of yourself, where people can read your work, and a high-resolution photo we can publish. All work must be submitted in Google Doc format.

Please change your permissions so that we can edit your work directly from the document. Email it to editor@eloquent-magazine.com with “New Year Literary Submission” as the subject line. This is an unpaid opportunity. Please follow us on our social channels for both paid and unpaid writing opportunities:

Facebook + Twitter + Instagram: @artwithaptitude

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Featured Review

ALBUM REVIEW: Working Men’s Club – Self-Titled

By Jacob Thompson 

Yorkshire post-punk techno rockers Working Men’s Club released their first LP on Heavenly Recordings. Produced by Ross Orton (The Fall, M.I.A., Arctic Monkeys), this self-titled debut is a rallying cry against the boredom of mill-town life in the Northwest of England, and manages to find a surprising amount of variety in its synth-drum soundscapes without ever losing the sense of identity that marks its Todmorden origins.

This is in no small part thanks to 18-year-old frontman Syd Minsky-Sargeant. Working Men’s Club formed in 2019, and Minsky-Sargeant is the last of the original cohort left. He is joined by Liam Ogburn on bass, Rob Graham on guitar and synth, and Mairead O’Connor on guitar, keyboards, and vocals. Together, they provide a punchy, bass-driven sound, though Minsky-Sargeant’s vocals are the grumbling undercurrent that fuels most of the tracks here.

Opening track Valleys flexes these muscles immediately, drawing out an industrial sound with a heavy vocal thrum that lends the opening of the album a brooding industrial quality. Everything here is defined by the West Yorkshire landscape; valleys, hills, and empty mills, red-brick warehouses and the rusting pipes within. There’s an ever-present sense of frustration in Minsky-Sargeant’s lyrics, a yearning for something more than the decrepit mill-towns, swept up in hopeless optimism and inevitable pessimism.

White Rooms and People and Outside are two tracks that really hit the paradoxical nature of this desperation, opening up the grungy bass of the gloomy Valleys and acidic A.A.A.A to sky-high funk riffs and mellow lyricism. The positive spaces these tracks sweep through are all tinged with a melancholic edge, a mellow comedown after the trance-like poetics of John Cooper Clarke, itself full of echoes of The Durutti Column and New Order, Graham and O’Connor working wonders with their loops and reverb.

Working Men’s Club work best when they’re letting their own identity flourish beyond their influences, and the album is tightly produced, always holding back just enough as not to be overbearing. But it’s when this strong identity is ignored that the album suffers; tracks like A.A.A.A and Be My Guest suffer somewhat for a lack of focus, whilst mercifully short Cook a Coffee is so on-the-nose punk that it feels more like a child of imitation than inspiration.  

Despite these missteps the album ends on a high, Tomorrow’s Gordon Gano-esque nihilism building up to the sinister and energetic Teeth, a pacy hi-hat racer leading to a frenetic climax that could easily serve as the album’s final track. Instead, we get Angel, a twelve-minute bumper that somehow justifies its place. This is a gig song recorded with a crowd in mind, and when Minsky-Sargeant’s lyrics disappear beneath Ogburn’s bass we are flung into a thrashing finale, at once a rebellion against and celebration of tiny venues in tiny towns everywhere, a mosh-pit in a local boozer, flung pints and trampled feet and all.

Working Men’s Club make a strong impression with this debut, and together with Orton they have produced a powerful statement piece. Though at times their sound veers close to feeling like an echo of what has come before, the oft-forgotten youth of England’s Northwest will no doubt find much to love here, and perhaps even some hope for the future of their scene.

@JacobBaggins is a Manchester-based music journalist and former Fuse FM radio writer.

CONNECT WITH JACOB: Twitter

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Featured Review

ALBUM REVIEW: Bartees Strange – Live Forever

By John Mccracken 

Bartees Strange’s Live Forever is a pulsing, sonic conundrum, released on Music Memory and mastered by Grammy-nominated producer Will Yip. In the first minutes of Live Forever, the Washington D.C. songwriter paints with an ethereal brush. “Jealousy” opens with soft piano chords, birds chirping, and an almost unintelligible Strange delivers lines about anger, missing pieces of the self, and a missing but needed voice. 

Distinct sounds like his will stop you in your tracks when you first hear them. Music’s ability to mold memories with reality is palpable with brilliant songwriting such as his. While bathing my son after an extraordinarily messy lunch, the first notes of “Jealousy” played through a small Bluetooth speaker. The window was open and the trees swayed with their newly changing leaves. He babbled along to the slowly crashing chords, shimmying in the rippling water, pushing infinite waves to the edges of the pool.

“Mustang” followed after, cutting the soft sounds with sharp synthesizers and a driving post-punk anthem. Strange has a stunning vocal range, moving between soft indie rock and anthemic, almost bellowing choruses. Showing his vocal range alongside musical prowess, Strange delves into a gritty punk in an abrupt ending to the track. 

Bartees Strange is a gifted songwriter with a unique background. Born in Ipswich, England, he travelled across Europe at a young age, being exposed to music through the church. His life in the States has had a proclivity to move around, jumping between music scenes in Oklahoma, eventually finding his way to the metro D.C. area as a songwriter and producer. 

Citing his young life and navigating the world as a Black man, “Boomer” is a fast-paced song, switching between wittily delivered rap verses and jangling, boot-stomping country bridges. 

He juggles aspirations of a better life on the trippy rap track “Kelly Rowland.” On “Stone Meadows,” he builds a wall of stadium rock, blending his loud delivery and shuffling drums.

Strange’s power lies in his ability to evoke mood with the strike of a chord. His large breadth of musical experiences, ranging from country bands, emo bands, and formal opera vocal training, has created a perfect mix of the unpredictable in him. He transcends genre with a smile on his face and a quick whip in his words. 

While trying to trace a singular root for in his sound, a messy clump of vines lies in the wake. This album is a gesture towards an infinite possibility of sound, influenced by punk, rap, indie-pop, synth-rock, with a brilliant, singular singer songwriting voice.Genre isn’t really in Strange’s vocabulary, because his songwriting melds sonic worlds together in a distinctive thread. 

Strange closes the album with the moody anthem “Ghostly.” The track ebbs and flows with plicking synth chords as he contemplates memories of friends and the effects of growing distant from one another. Midway through, he shifts into a new refrain with driving chords, reaching towards a hefty album closer. The song evaporates quickly, mixing vocal harmonies and crashing static.

John Mccracken is a freelance writer from Wisconsin, living in Green Bay. He’s reported on breaking labor news, the intimacy of food in the face of a global pandemic, and interviewed multiple New York Times Bestselling authors. Visit his work here.

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