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The Friday Dispatch
Buck Meek, Boygenius, Elmiene, Bill Fay and Flaer
Buck Meek balances his solo work with his role as one of the four irreplaceable components in Big Thief – arguably the world’s greatest country-indie-folk-metal band. What position do those two different projects have in his life? What does each give him?
“With Big Thief, I’m blessed to have the freedom to shape-shift,” he tells Best Fit, which is a very Big Thief thing to say. “I’ve been playing guitar since I was five years old; I didn’t really start writing songs until I was in high school. So the guitar is even deeper in my blood. With Big Thief, it’s so free, I can embody a completely ambient space. I can kind of disappear and just create whale sounds for a while, or I can go into a very outward place on the guitar. I’ve always contributed to some degree in the songwriting sphere, but it’s mostly just supportive, with songs like ‘Certainty’ and ‘Two Hands’. Big Thief allows me to be part of a collective. It feels like we’re more than the sum of our parts: we’re like one body, and we lose ourselves in the band.”
Leading his own group is essentially the opposite. “There’s this responsibility for me to be the guide for my band, and also for the listener, taking them through a story or an experience. It’s an honour, and very empowering, but also exhausting. I personally need the balance of being able to go back and forth between that and Big Thief, where I can just dissolve into this collective.”
Big Thief’s last album betrayed a strong country influence, while their live shows in the past two years have escalated into metal. Where will the band take us next? “Well, we’re building our own little recording studio right now,” says Meek, “and I’m heading over in the next few days to crack into that. I think we all unanimously want to try to write the heaviest music we can; to write what rock and roll means to us, in the heaviest possible way. That’s our starting point.”
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Meek and Lenker were married once, then divorced, but they remain “deep friends”, in her perfect words, and continue to make beautiful music together. I used them as a template, I say, when I went through much the same thing. It meant a lot to us to see their example. I hadn’t intended to tell him that, but all this talk of honesty made me want to. “Hell yeah,” he murmurs, when I’ve finished offloading on him. “Thanks for saying that… The music definitely is what helped us transform… that accountability of taking care of the music, I think… having a thing outside of ourselves to move through the transition.”
Their relationship is clearly incredibly special, I say. How has it influenced him as a person? The pause this time is the longest of the interview. He wants to say it right. “Well, in so many ways,” he says eventually, “but… the first that comes to mind is that she is one of the most honest people I’ve ever met. She’s always been a North Star for me in regards to truth – in her relations and also in her songwriting, and in the way she approaches music – and that’s been huge for me. I’ve always looked up to her in that way.”
He considers this for a moment.“You know, honesty can be brutal, but it’s always the right way.”
A 2019 study analysing over 50 years worth of song lyrics from 1965 to 2015 found that words associated with negative emotions significantly increased over that time period while descriptors of positive feelings noticeably decreased. And if things felt bleak in 2015, they feel even bleaker now. Boygenius didn’t release their first album until 2018, but they joined the tradition of songwriters delving into their darkest thoughts for lyrical material.
Yet their mammoth show last weekend at Gunnersbury Park in West London reveals that singing about negative emotions more often isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Teenagers in old school ties and Ethel Cain fans in prairie dresses come together to sing loudly to songs they might have cried alone to in dark bedrooms, joining a chorus of thousands in songs exploring sadness, anxiety and depression and, in doing so, reaching a state of catharsis. Sing loud enough amid a 25,000-strong crowd and those feelings evaporate until you’re just left with connection.
Sometimes it can be hard for artists with slower songs to command such vast spaces without losing a sense of intimacy that these deeply emotional tracks deserve. Certain sections do feel better suited to smaller venues, but when Bridgers asks the crowd to put their phones away during "Letter To An Old Poet" – written about “one of the darkest periods of my adult life” – everyone miraculously obeys. In those moments, everyone is transfixed and you almost forget that so many people are there.
Other moments feel deservedly big. When fireworks explode across the late summer night sky, MUNA join them and both bands run riotously across the stage, beaming and kissing each other as "Salt In The Wound" reaches its clashing crescendo. It feels like a release of any pent up sadness that’s still lingering, like ripping off the bandaid to see that the wound has healed beneath. Their first ever London show might just mark the beginning of true Boygenius world domination, but most of all, it showed just how special a day can be when the band themselves curate a lineup that resonates with their fans, especially when they choose some of the most exciting young queer singer-songwriters coming up right now.
Something old, something new
Every week, one of Best Fit's writers or editors share their recommendations of two records they love - one from the past, one from the present. This week, Best Fit writer Janne Oinonen on Countless Branches by Bill Fay (2020) and Preludes by Flaer (2023).
There aren’t that many records that shine equally brightly as unobtrusive, becalming background music and the focal point of deep listening. Countless Branches, the latest and greatest of Bill Fay’s trilogy of ‘comeback’ albums that followed a rediscovery of the London-based songwriter’s unjustly ignored albums from the late 60s and early 70s is one such. Initial full band arrangements were ditched when it was (rightly) decided songs of such quiet grace and ageless beauty really didn’t require much extraneous clutter alongside Fay’s simple piano and warmly weathered burr of a voice to get their effortlessly profound message of wide-eyed wonder and hard-won wisdom across. Some might claim that the sparse contents of Countless Branches verge on the naïve in their plainspoken directness. Still, surely the ability to express complicated matters directly and plainly ranks as a hallmark of greatness. I was recently reminded of the spellbinding power of Countless Branches after hearing one of the highlights (“Love Will Remain”) placed in a film. If you want to be moved without being explicitly told how to feel, check out this gem and the rest of this unappreciated minimalist masterpiece.
The spaces between the notes rarely get equal billing to grandiose chest-beating via noise and spectacle when the foundations for noteworthy music are dissected. However, the evidence in defence of the hypnotic potential of space and silence in recording and composition is pretty overwhelming. In A Silent Way from Miles Davis’s imperial electric era, the finest slices of distinctly European funk of Can, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock by Talk Talk: all undisputed masterpieces that rely heavily on allowing the instruments ample room to breathe.
As such, it’s probably no surprise I have been returning regularly to Flaer’s Preludes, the recent first release on Odda Recordings – an offshoot of the venerated leftfield Leeds label Leaf. Almost confrontationally contemplative and soft-spoken on first encounters, the seven hushed compositions that comprise this debut outing by painter and musician Realf Heygate have acquired a seriously hypnotic pull once I had reprogrammed my ears sufficiently to appreciate that shameless attention-seeking and hyperactive arrangements are perhaps not an unfailing hallmark of great music.
Words like ‘bucolic’ and ‘pastoral’ tend to get thrown about to the point where they are almost meaningless. Heygate’s melancholic instrumental compositions for acoustic guitar, cello and piano (alongside fleeting found sounds of church bells, birdsong and children playing), performed totally solo are genuinely and deeply rooted to the landscape of the artist’s home in rural Leicestershire. Essentially, these are landscape paintings in sound, mindful of both the picture postcard beauty of the natural environment and the darkness that lurks beneath the pretty surface: I reckon Heygate and Craven Faults would have some shared interests to talk about.
We have three rare vinyl test pressings of Preludes to give away - enter the competition here.
Oxford-raised British-Sudanese singer/songwriter Elmiene has been working with some of music’s greats — from co-writing with Stormzy to jamming in the studio with Timbaland. Before we chat, he’s in rehearsals to perform with a collaborator that shall not be named that has heralded him as one of the greats. It’s just one of the many icons — from the likes of Abloh to Elton John — to support and uplift him in the industry. For a rising artist, it’s a lot to take in.
“I've embraced it wholeheartedly because it's always impossible to really, truly embrace something like that, you know what I mean?” he tells me. “It's like it's impossible to digest it. It’s hard to think about being on the phone with Elton John so why think about it longer than you need to and just let it happen. I let it just breeze right through me and I kind of grasp what I can grasp but most of it is too heavy to hold on to, but just let it kind of carry on.”
Songwriting hasn’t always been something that he approaches with a preconceived mindset. The Sampha-produced “Mama”, his latest single, was the first where Elmiene did come to the writing session with a general topic and idea, but what surprised him was how much that actually helped him craft it.
“I’m actually very strange in the way that I write music or think about music,” he explains. “When I come into the studio, I don’t like to walk in with a formed idea or theme. I want the session to lead me where it was to lead me. [Writing sessions] feel pretty free and I'm always experimenting with how to write music, and with a song like ‘Mama’ it came from listening to one album by Prince and the song ‘Mary Don't You Weep’ and the lyric ‘Mary, don't you mourn’ was a sick lyric. It made me think of the lyric ‘Would you mourn a sinner’. I walked into recording ‘Mama’ and the rest of the lyrics came through. Not coming in with any preconceptions helps relax you — I think of it like a beam of light coming straight through you and telling the exact story you want to tell.”
Dropping at midnight every Thursday, follow our 20-track playlist for a taste of the best new music from the most exciting breaking artists.
These are the songs our editors and writers have on repeat right now, taken from the hundreds of tracks released in the last seven days. Leading the selection this week are amazing cuts from Samantha Urbani, Eartheater, John Glacier, Caro, Aziya and coverstar twst.