Whenever Jack from Devil Town Tapes is sending a submission my way, I know I have to listen to it because it will be 100% great. This new album from Noah Roth, coming from Philly (respectively Chicago) and also being a member of Mt. Worry, a Philly band I shared recently. All this information was more than enough to get me excited about the album, but if you have doubts, read the following press release:
“There’s something about a homecoming — which is to say, there’s something about sitting in your childhood bedroom, stoned, bored, and alone — that’ll make you feel like you can’t outrun things anymore. Last winter Noah Roth headed back to the Chicago suburbs from Philly, where they’ve made their home for the last 5 years. They were going through a breakup, and they were putting the finishing touches on their last record, Breakfast of Champions, which they’d been working on for five years at that point and were feeling burnt out on. Over the month they were there, the songs that make up their newest record Don’t Forget To Remember all but fell out of them.
“My little sibling had a two-input audio interface in her room, and she was at her dad’s place all the time, so I would just go downstairs and fuck around on Ableton for hours every day,” Roth recalls. “After basically three weeks of doing that, I had the skeleton of a new record.”
Don’t Forget To Remember is kind of a change in tack for Roth. Breakfast of Champions was all meticulously and richly composed alt-country, on which Roth was assisted by a who’s-who of Philadelphia indie rock. They were only 18 when they started writing those songs, a DIY scene wonderkid if ever there was one. But writing Don’t Forget To Remember at 22, they weren’t so much searching for perfection, just a grasp at self-expression that was raw and maybe ugly but definitely true.
“I wanted to make something that was kind of quick and dirty, and doing it myself the way that I used to do when I was a teenager,” they say. After playing in punk bands all through high school, they taught themself to self-record during their time at a “therapeutic boarding school” their senior year — and while that wasn’t exactly a good time, it taught them something about how honest you can get when no one else is listening. So, in tribute to that, the songs on Don’t Forget To Remember are chronicles of addiction, denial, inadequacy; fucking up again and again; watching someone you loved become a stranger, and knowing it’s no one’s fault, but sure as hell feeling like it’s your fault. “I can talk about it, I will be alright / Though heaven knows everybody dies alone,” Roth sings on “Paper Tigers.”
“I’m 23, turning 24, so a lot of what I’ve been writing about for the last few years is just growing up and trying to figure out what it means to exist in the world as an adult,” they say. “I think lyrically a lot of it is about just this moment or several moments where you can’t go back. It’s just that feeling, that watershed feeling, of like, all these things have happened in my life now, and all I can do is just move forward. And I think a lot of my music and the sort of sonic landscape that it inhabits is about breakdowns in communication; the inability to get the words out right.”
“Because I was home in Chicago and I was recording in a bedroom, I didn’t have access to a lot of the studio equipment that I had access to for the last record. And I was honestly thrilled about that,” they add. “The mantra when recording this record was just like, if I can’t record it well, I can record it in a way that’s cool. So at a certain point, I was just like, okay, I’ve got this song, how can I fuck it up?”
The spidery guitar line and skittish drums of “Soon” pretty nicely answer that question; grimy, warped, sharp-edged, but a kind of prettiness and whimsy somewhere in there too. Roth’s vocal melodies across this album are lovely, but also sound like they’ve been dragged through dirt. “Perfect Detail” is a ballad that gets ever more corrupted by gargling, grating synths. “Needs” is a somewhat manic ditty with a lurching, uncertain tempo. For the album’s sound Roth was going for somewhere between the Flaming Lips, the Magnetic Fields, and Neutral Milk Hotel; songwriting that’s poignant and weird, sweet and gritty, in equal measure. “I feel like I second-guess myself a lot with music in general; and with this album, there was a very conscious effort on my part to not do that, and to just trust my instincts,” they say. “Even if it’s weird or not how a song should sound, just embracing that and letting it be what it is.”
“Anymore” is the album’s conclusion; it begins acoustic and pretty, a high synth singing in the background like some kind of heavenly presence. Then it transitions into the album’s hardest-rocking song — fuzzed out and cacophonous, and kind of triumphant. “Please don’t tear me down / I’ll never see you around / But I won’t let you be / A series of starts for me,” Roth sings.
“The song is about being at rock bottom, and the moment when you realize it’s gonna be okay,” they say. “I wanted to end the album on a hopeful note, and though this song is really sad, I think it’s also about being okay with the fact that things change throughout life and people come and go. I think that’s kinda the overall feeling of the record — “I really miss someone who was really important to me, but I’m gonna get through that.””
“Now, when I listen to these songs, I’m like, that was a really difficult time in my life, and I made it through it. It is, on a very personal level, just evidence that I can turn a period of pretty intense turmoil in my life into something that is positive and that I actually really enjoy listening to. It’s been over a year since I started recording it and I’m still not sick of it. Which is sort of unprecedented for me.”
Press Release by Mia Hughes“
DTT has been making some great press releases in the recent past and I love to share them as an example of how great the press release can look. If you are not convinced to listen to the album at this point, you are probably not going to do it anyway, so you can skip to the end and just get the cassette.
Noah are proving my point that Philly is producing the best music right now, apart from Alex G, the new Greg Mendez has been amazing as well. We have shared so many great artists from this city I have a special connection to.
Somehow the songwriting quality of Philly musicians is so great that I love to listen carefully to lyrics as well. This album is no exception and I loved listening to it from the beginning to the end. I was not bored, not disappointed, I was just feeling happy I can live my life and do this blog and bring you so much great music.
So just press the play if you have not already done that and enjoy this beauty.
I have also asked Noah our 3 questions:
What inspired you to start making music and what keeps you making music?
To me there’s just never been another option. I was surrounded my music growing up; my parents listened to a lot of stuff that other people’s parents didn’t listen to and they also both play music casually. I kind of always thought it was just what you did.
Nowadays it’s a compulsion for me — I’ll get an idea for a song and I can’t eat or sleep until at least the sketch of it is finished. Maybe that’s insane. It’s just always felt like the truest form of expression for me.
What was the most challenging thing in your music (artistic) path?
I think getting other people to care about it or to listen is always a bit of a challenge. A lot of people heard and really liked the last record, Breakfast of Champions, but I don’t necessarily feel like my life has changed at all as a result. That can be discouraging sometimes.
Not that the goal is to be extremely rich and famous, but I’d like to tour a fair amount. I think part of it is that I started so young. I was 13 when I wrote my first songs. I’m turning 24 in a month, so I feel like the clock is kinda ticking, even though in the grand scheme I’m actually just getting started.
What would you dream to do if anything was possible?
I’d love to just be able to tour and record and support myself off of it. I know that’s more difficult than it’s ever been, but I can dream! My other band, Mt. Worry, just did our first tour and it was such a blast. I’d love to just keep the momentum going and be able to share my music with people for a living. Beyond that, there’s not much more I could really want for.