Girlfiend: Comrade Isodora Duncan

So, I’ve finally had the chance to sit down and give Girlfiend’s EP a solid listen that isn’t completely tinged by my bleak outlook on the world. This may or may not have a good idea. There is something about music which just feels more real when you are clutching to what little hope you have when all you want to do is die. Nevertheless, I’ve put this off long enough, and I think that now is the time to jump decisively into the deep end and see if I can review an album. I’ve put links to each song on their Bandcamp page so that you can give their stuff a listen, and then tell me what I’ve said is wrong (Also, if you like the album, maybe think about picking it up (I am not being paid to say this)).

Earthworm

What is most striking about this song is how it appears to feel like Elliot Smith hung out with Simon and Garfunkel, and decided to record this song. It has the upbeat melodies which were the hallmark of S&G, while mixing in the imperfect (yet somehow contextually perfect) vocalizations of the singer.

Tea Tree Blues

This feels more directly Elliott Smith, with the melancholy tone and pervading sense of hopelessness. The organ is a particularly nice touch to counterpoint the discordant nature of the lyrics. For most of the song, everything seems just a little off… but when you listen to the lyrics, you see that this fits perfectly, and as the song builds, everything falls into place, creating a melodically pleasing dystopian vision which the singer has been describing. This is a wonderful exploration of the inherent instability within relationships, and captures marvelously that moment just before you consciously know that everything is over.

The Enemy Is Within

More than anything, this song reminds me of the quieter tunes from the college rock scene that was hanging around the edges of grunge. I like the splashes of electric with come in to color what could otherwise be a fairly straightforward acoustic ballad. My main issue with this tune has nothing to do with the music, but its title, which led me to believe that is would be more Star Trek-themed. Sadly, it is not.

Purity

“a falling satellite,
burning up
just to prove you’re right.”

It’s embarrassing to admit to myself just how much I identify with this lyric. While not everything falls seamlessly into place in this track, it works pretty well overall. It makes me remember back to my days sitting in coffee shops in the Pacific Northwest and watching the falling rain, while trying to figure out why I seemed so much better able to stay alone than to find someone who might want to share their life with me.

no. 63

By far, this is the most musically beautiful song on the E.P. It could be that I am a huge fan of songs which so beautifully capture the exquisite pain of a love which is no more that just doesn’t want to leave. That being said, however, I do have a small reservation with this song. It can be problematic to include profanity, which is saying something if you know me in person (Think: In Bruges). I personally don’t mind if it’s (I can’t believe I’m going to say this) ejaculated in a poignant moment or just an f-bomb screamed in rage, but I think that trying to melodically convey the sentiment tends to make the whole thing a bit jarring, at least for me.

The Settlers’ Association Victory Song

I am sitting here, listening to this, reminded of nothing more than The Oblivion Seekers’ 1995 album, Spirit of America. It seems to me that this song probably works really well live, and speaks to the fears and need to rebel which every young adult feels more than anything. Back twenty years ago, I would have held this song up and marched behind it, especially with the lyric, “you don’t know if you’re outgunned until you try.” Of course, now I’m in my mid-thirties, and it seems that the only thing I really want to change is the channel on my television, which is so depressing that I can’t believe that I just shared that with all of you.

So, overall, I enjoyed Comrade Isodora Duncan, which I initially described as sounding like Simon and Garfunkel having decided to record Little Shop of Horrors (not a bad thing). There were a couple of moments when it didn’t work for me, but in general, I would say that I wouldn’t skip it if it was playing on Pandora, which may not sound like high praise, but then you don’t know how much I am unwilling to sit through something I don’t care for. And at $5, it’s not a bad deal. So, if you like, help support singer/songwriter Hanna Tashjian as she continues to tour around… places. And if you don’t like it, well, I guess that just means that you are a bad person.

I had a chance to sit down with Ms. Tashjian a little while ago, and we got to talking almost in an interview-type format.

So, tell me a little bit about yourself. What made you you?
I’ll decline the biography. If you want a sob story you can listen to my songs and assume I’m appropriately tortured. I don’t have much interest in filling in the blanks there.
Okay, fair enough. Tell me a little about your musical history…
I’ve been in bands playing drums since I was 14, performing live and taking primitive stabs at recording. There’s only about two reasons why someone leaves the band environment to go solo: it falls apart for unrelated reasons and they don’t find new bandmates, or they’re a control freak. I’m pretty solidly in the latter camp, hah; with a lot of the bands I was in I felt like I was getting in a lot of fights over creative decisions. That was about the time I started learning to play guitar, around 15 or 16 I think. That was also around the age I started writing poetry. I had an affinity for words and wordplay even as a kid, and the new challenge of making it actually mean something was an interesting one for a while. Thankfully, however, none of the writings from the era have survived to this day.
I feel grateful that some of my earlier pieces did not survive as well. So how did you go from poet to songwriter? Seriously. I just can’t seem to do it myself. 
Even when I had the two separate pieces, putting them together was still a feat. I spent a pretty disheartening couple years figuring out how to translate the noise in my head into something tangible, something I could actually commit to tape. I’m still working on that, if I’m entirely honest. I think most musicians are. Your ideas get more and more ambitious and you have to figure out how to make them work. I still play some of older songs live and they give me the sense that I’m going back through a high school diary when I’m doing it, with all the weird little things you thought were cool back then scattered around. I’ll probably feel the same way in 2-3 years from now, like “wow, I was really fucked up in my early 20s, huh?”
I think that if you’re not fucked up in your early 20’s, you’re doing something wrong. So, you’ve learned how to patch songs together from the ether. What happened next?
Okay, so after the dissolution of basically every other band I was in, I formed this band with my best friend, Bowie Twombly on drums (that went through a rotating cast of names, the longest running being the completely nonsensical Flied By Owls) in 2011 or so, basically under the premise that I’d be the main songwriter for once. That worked out super great for a while, since my ego when it came to songwriting was so fragile that it was hard showing unproven material to someone I didn’t unconditionally trust. On the other hand, I was also writing these songs that clearly wouldn’t play in a rock band, and I had no idea what to do with them. I wanted to make this band work, and at the same time it felt like I was cutting off half my songwriting to do so. The band came to a sorta de facto ending; there’s a more complicated truth there, but I have no interest in getting into it. He went to Europe, and I lost the place I was living and ended up back at my parents’ house.
That’s rough. I tried going home again. It didn’t take. Was that the genesis of Girlfiend, then?
So my band broke up, I had just broken up with my first real girlfriend, and my best friend was off somewhere away from me. Music was my only real point of stability, so that was where I lived. I wrote a lot. I opened up a soundcloud account and started recording songs into my cell phone and posting them on the internet, warts and all. When you go for lo-fi recordings, there’s definitely a sense of urgency you’re trying to capture, a sorta lightning-in-a-bottle of someone just coming up with something great, just now. That said, I gotta feel that this was halfway a defensive tactic, like if I didn’t try very hard I could at least fall back on the idea that I wasn’t trying. But the truth is, a few people noticed. I started making connections and getting shows and getting somewhere with my music, despite my affinity for falling-down-drunk performances. (in my defense, just because I can’t stand up doesn’t mean I can’t play!) In one of the more surreal moments of my life, I was at a friend’s show and this woman — who I later found out had caught my show a few months prior — tapped me on the shoulder and asked “hey, aren’t you the girl from Girlfiend?” I think my exact response was “…depends on who’s asking.” It’s weird though, like I don’t know if I could deal with having any broader level of recognition than that, but it was fun feeling like a movie star for a second.
So, what have you been doing recently?
In the summer of 2014, I recorded a 6-song EP in actual decent production quality, entitled Comrade Isodora Duncan, and went on tour through California. Shortly thereafter, I had a pretty severe mental breakdown and kinda retreated from everything. I spent about a year in something resembling recovery, though I’m still not convinced it was, particularly. But, at least now I’m back, I’m going on tour with Diana Regan, we’re recording a split EP together, and I’m trying to end this bit on a hopeful note. Maybe if I say it that way it’ll come true.

Well, good luck to you, and thanks for stopping by!

And with that, this edition of After Dark has come to an end. Thanks for checking it out, and I hope that you enjoy the E.P.!

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