‘At first I did not love you, Jude; that I own…And then—I don’t know how it was—I couldn’t bear to let you go—possibly to Arabella again—and so I got to love you, Jude. But you see, however fondly it ended, it began in the selfish and cruel wish to make your heart ache for me without letting mine ache for you.’
One of my favourite novels of all time, Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, traces the complexly uneven and tempestuous love between two forlorn characters, Jude and Sue—and how it becomes undone by the brutally indifferent world of the 19th century in which the pair live. In Hardy’s words, for Jude, ‘Events did not rhyme quite as he had thought’. Just like anything in real life, and not a film or a book, or ‘Love Story’ by Taylor Swift, love doesn’t always unfold according to a perfectly-mapped narrative structure. What about the next part, where you discover the pleasure of being alone? And the part after that, where you meet someone else and find a new connection with them? Or the part where you turn to textual chemistry on Tinder, and casually date, or have sex with whomever you want? And what about the love that persists all around us regardless of our romantic affairs? The love you feel when you’re moved by a play, or a piece of cake, or a piece of art that you relate to just instantly? The people who make your heart feel so full that it burns, eclipsed by wonder? And what about those days where you’re just like, I can’t believe that I’m not only not depressed out of my mind, but that I also actually feel…in love with the world around me?!?!
Michael Seyer’s latest album Bad Bonez tentatively weaves together all these different strands of ‘love’; it’s a beautiful and brutal hinterland, an unflinching confessional chronicle of loneliness, lust and growth. On Bad Bonez, the California-based lo-fi musician (also guitarist for Bane’s World) lets us into his own method of working through conflicting impulses, unwinding that knot of feelings within us in a way that is at once comforting and difficult–and in a process all the more intensified by the rawness of his humble bedroom recordings.
Beyond his musical influences, including Mac DeMarco and Homeshake, 22-year-old Seyer draws inspiration from English literature, which he’s currently majoring in at university. ‘I love reading in general’, says Seyer, ‘so sometimes I’ll pull from books’. Documenting the shaky climbs and tumbling falls which punctuate the path of love, Seyer infuses his nuanced lyrics with the same captivating warmth and depth which we see in Hardy’s rapturous tragedy of Jude the Obscure. ‘Hold my hand feel my love / But understand it’s all just luck / No such thing as true love / It’s all just luck, Lucky Love’ sings Seyer over the beautifully waltzing tune ‘Lucky Love’. His emotive, crackling voice exudes the same fragility as the angelic tones of Dreamgirl’s ‘Teenage Blue’, a painfully raw accompaniment to late-night wanderings and one of my most played songs of the moment. Seyer’s opening melancholic thrum transports us to the glistening dance-floor of a 1950s high-school prom, and the lilting vocals ooze with a languorous dreamy feeling which absorbs us into a charming, seductive inertia. Love to Seyer may be ‘all just luck’, but this doesn’t prevent it from being just as real, or just as stunning, and he assures that: ‘But that don’t make love weak, it’s unique. The chances that’d we meet and just speak’. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently—those fleeting, chance encounters with people that somehow come to shape me as a person, and their impossibly tangled logic which simultaneously excites us and makes us feel vulnerable. ‘Waiting for You’ expresses the sweetness of this initial enrapture whilst avoiding cliché, the jazzy piano arpeggios and haunting saxophone capturing perhaps that bleary moment in Hardy’s Jude when Jude catches himself looking at Sue—the glow of the fireplace hits her cheeks—and he falls in love with her: ‘Then he stood with his back to the fire, regarding her, and saw in her almost a divinity’.
A soundscape of wistful, down-tempo R&B, with swirling synths reminiscent of something like Mac DeMarco’s Salad Days, the record overall fuses more traditional harmonies and genres with experimental obtuse blues. A sense of relatable vulnerability seeps into ‘I Feel Best when I’m Alone’, possibly my favourite of the album, which addresses a conflict between wanting to be intimate with someone else and the thrashing impulse to be alone with yourself and your feelings: ‘Don’t take it personal / It’s just what I do baby’. The tension is palpable. In many ways a follow-up to the impassioned exploration of self-image on Ugly Boy, which was released in 2016, Bad Bonez delves deeper into Seyer’s thorny transitioning to America, the sense of hybrid belonging to his Philippine heritage and how this colours his experience as an artist: ‘A lot of my goals as a kid were to better articulate myself just because my speech was so different… I’m an English major now because in trying to develop my articulation, I just grew an intense fascination for English’. It’s an internal division that speaks directly to me as an English student, too–the distanced attachment to my origins, and feeling different from others, paired with the joy of finding in English literature the courage and the confidence to say all the things I want to say.
‘I am a kid that records shitty music in my bedroom’, avows Michael Seyer in his bandcamp bio. But don’t let Seyer’s self-deprecating synthesis of his work misguide you. For me, the entire album has been on heavy rotation since it came out, and his DIY audio-diary documenting his regain of emotional footing emerges as something more three-dimensional and profound. As Seyer reveals, ‘a lot of this album is just me reacting to personal emotions. During this album process, I was trying to figure myself out after a break-up from a pretty serious relationship.’ Seyer also guides us out of the shadows, and throughout Bad Bonez we’re reminded that perhaps love is such a universal experience because it shines light on all parts of us—our dark edges, frailties and subtle opposites. From the honey-dipped ‘Kill All Your Darlings’ to the smoky ‘Show Me How You Feel (Eros)’, Bad Bonez makes us feel multiple different forms of love—but always through a blurry, tender and experienced lens.
Like Bad Bonez, Cavernzz’ debut LP Nothing Left compiles gentle vocals, drifting melodies and the expressive imperfections of bedroom pop to document the travails of nascent adulthood, and those jumbled feelings of loneliness which unremittingly linger. As Seyer sighs on ‘An Awful Lonely Summer’, whilst isolation leaves us in dark places, it sometimes seems the easiest to embrace: ‘I feel human, alone with just me’. With its blend reminiscent of the multi-instrumental bedroom pop artist Infinite Bisous, the album sets the atmosphere with ambient opener ‘America’, its watery guitar strum and deep utterances channelling the pace of a slow-rising night owl, penning its introspective thoughts long into the early hours of the morning. On my favourite track on the record, ‘Some Way 2 Feel Ok’, the brush strokes meander around the soft and ethereal chorus like a slow trickling stream, permeated with the all-too-familiar tortuousness of previously buried decisions and responsibilities. It’s an intimate slice of Cavernzz’ thoughts that exist on a forgotten voice note on his phone. Despite the inherent heaviness of these themes, light peers through the musician’s DIY soundscapes; the bold and vibrant autumnal colours interlace gracefully with woozy, experimental guitar and euphonic vocal textures that effuse into the corners of his songs. Like Seyer’s spiralling tonal trajectory on Bad Bonez, Cavernzz’ always-poignant lyricism and ethereal vocals skip around various moods, running the full spectrum of almost every affecting chord or feeling. The lilting melody of ‘Lost Again’—and the self-awareness as ‘I seem to get away / From myself’—grapples with the same, sometimes perplexing game of life as Seyer’s ‘Sonata for a Bad Ghost’ and its forlorn whisper: ‘somedays are harder to play’. It’s a reminder that, even at its quietest, most self-effacing moments, Nothing Left judders with a yearning assuredness and palpability that is simultaneously personal, and relatable to all.
Nothing Left and Bad Bonez trace the sometimes isolating trajectory of youth, figured in Thomas Hardy in terms of aching unpredictability and unevenness, but which ultimately flourishes in resilience. Seyer ventures into the parts of love that are hard to talk about: how to reconcile self-image and a lover’s image of you, the pain of drifting apart, and missing someone you’re separated from so much you can taste it. Yet Seyer’s break-up becomes for Bad Bonez the impetus for cathartic self-reflection: ‘I’m just thankful that the love was pure / Trying my best to cope with myself / Cause thinking all love leads to pain ain’t good for my health’. Bad Bonez is my favourite album of 2018 so far, not only because it’s truly beautiful all the way through, but also, in its own healing way, it reveals the necessity of remedial solitary periods and subverts the typical associations of strength. This breathes a kind of calm into Nothing Left; self-sufficiency resurfaces in the playful, minimalistic tones of Cavernzz’ nascent—and ascendant—narrative. The raw, quivering lines of Seyer’s final track—‘Someone hold onto my hand/ I don’t think I’m a man’—plainly impart to us that you can be both vulnerable and resilient; indeed, admitting what you need takes immense courage.
-- Georgina Quach, March 26, 2018