Discover more from The Line of Best Fit
The Friday Dispatch
Kelley Deal, Willow Avalon, Tiberius b, Loundon Wainwright III, Jaboukie and Hannah Diamond
As one-fourth of The Breeders – together with her twin sister Kim, bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim Macpherson – Kelley Deal knows how lucky she is to have such an invested and enduring community of music lovers around her. Although she didn’t officially join the band until after their breakthrough album Pod, eventually stepping into Tanya Donnelly’s shoes as lead guitarist, it’s hard to imagine The Breeders without her.
At the time of Pod’s release in 1990, Deal was working as a contractor for on a military base in California and had never really played guitar. She’d auditioned as a drummer for the Pixies a few years earlier, shortly after her sister was hired as their bassist, but lacked confidence in her playing and decided against it. "I didn't really want to be in [Black Francis’s] band, I wanted to be in Kim's band,” she told The Guardian in 2008, but it wasn’t until quitting her job and moving back to the Deals’ hometown of Dayton, Ohio, that she felt ready to do it.
This time around, she didn’t let a little thing like near total inexperience hold her back. Having been singing and performing with her sister since the age of eight, and writing songs together since their teens, Deal knew she had a certain melodic nous and a feel for the emotional conversation of music. With guidance from Kim, all that knowledge and instinct became accessible through the guitar, and Deal went from zero to hero in the space of little more than a year.
Speaking to Best Fit from Dayton, where she still lives, Deal describes that time an incredible learning experience. With this year’s 30th anniversary of Last Splash – The Breeders’ classic second album – it’s a period in her life that, lately, she’s been musing on a lot. But just as she says she never gets tired of playing the Last Splash songs live, she brings the same energy and enthusiasm to talking about them. “It’s always really fun to play that record from beginning to end,” she says, thinking ahead to the anniversary tour that’s now in full swing.
“Songs like ‘Divine Hammer’ and ‘Cannonball’ are a blast and we play them all the time, but I’m loving the chance to play other songs that we don’t play much, like ‘Mad Lucas’, ‘Flipside’ and ‘Roi’. I actually kind of can’t believe how much people appreciate all of the songs. I mean, ‘Mad Lucas’ is a five-minute dirge, but when we play it it’s like you could hear a pin drop. It’s beautiful. People appreciate it and get it, and I’m always like, ‘God, I love our people.’”
While her focus for the time being is firmly on The Breeders, Deal says she has learnt to keep her own personal relationship with music going outside of the band – as well as becoming the face of the indie rock knitting community. Already this year she’s put out an album with her duo project R.Ring, cris-crossed the US as a touring member of Protomartyr, and guested on records by new band Young Eyes and queer indie stalwarts Your Heart Breaks.
To honour not just Last Splash’s big 3-0 but Deal’s unique path in music as a whole, we asked her to talk about the five songs she’s most proud of. Fuelled by her morning coffee, she runs us through her selections energetically:
“I was really struggling with how to choose these songs,” she admits in a pause for breath. “But, in the end, they all have something that they represent to me. They are all markers for me, in some way.”
When I talk with Willow Avalon, she's at home in her Hell's Kitchen apartment. Its vast, gothic interiors are filled with nik naks and curios - everything from medical dictionaries to typewriters and old instruments – and went viral when it featured on Caleb Simpson's apartment tours at the end of last year.
Avalon’s success on TikTok was entirely accidental: the publish of that clip coincided with another – the 25-year-old Georgia-born singer and songwriter with her adopted possum son Bowie, now sadly departed. The runaway numbers on both clips led to Avalon being able to make rent through her videos. Regardless, she's mostly a luddite – more at home with repairing cars and rewiring lamps – who didn’t touch a computer until the age of 15. “I can take your carburettor out and put it back in,” she enthuses. ”I do house restoration, rewire electrical outlets, any fixtures!”
Avalon’s backstory is ripped straight from the pages of Flannery O’Connor. The child of outsider artist and musician Jim White, her parents broke up when she was very young. She grew up in the shadow of their animosity for one another, clashing constantly. Leaving home at 15, she was thrown into adulthood at the deep end. Always moving, Avalon made ends meet with a variety of of jobs to pay the bills and rarely had time to sit and reflect. “I”m very well versed in the the whole pick-you-up, let-you-down thing,” she explains. “Where I came from, you don’t complain about your problems. You go to church, talk to the Lord, and then you just suck it up and handle it.” Avalon and the Lord didn’t get along, she adds: "but I had myself and I had music. I have what my dad calls tunnel vision - if I’m determined, I block out everything around me to make it happen.”
Musically, Avalon bears the hallmarks of resilience and a life lived, hitting melancholic sweet spots with a grandiose flourish that recalls Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne and Reba McEntire. Her songs, she believes, have come straight from her own survival handbook. She’s never had real therapy other than state-mandated counselling, ”because of the situations that I grew up in as a kid. And it was court-ordered, and I had to go but I was also doing so many illegal things in that timeframe that I was never able to be honest in those sessions, because I was in fear of what would happen to people that I loved.”
She signed her first deal at 18. “It was like a dumpster fire,” she laments. “It was a publishing company and they signed me for an indie label they were going to make and I was going to be the first roll-out artist. I was due to deliver them 8 songs but I’m an over-achiever so I delivered them 16… and then they never paid me.”
The pandemic hit; the label idea was shelved and the company was bought out. Avalon had her contract cancelled and put out her debut track “Drivin” herself. “It was an unmixed and unmastered MP3. The cover photo was taken on an iPhone 5 that my girlfriend took on the day it had to be submitted on DistroKid.”
Now on a new deal with Atlantic, Avalon released her latest single “Stranger” this week, a sharply melancholic lament on connection that channels trans-generational trauma and the warped representations of love she grew up with. “The song is about me wishing that I had a little bit of a different foundation for me – going into love and being able to have lasting relationships that didn't require so much internal monologue and work.”
The Line of Best Fit is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Being frank is exactly what the music of Tiberius b promises. For over a decade, 29-year-old London-based singer-songwriter – born Frank Belcourt – has chronicled everything from silly songs about uncertain lovers to being run over by a van shortly after a breakup. On recent EP DIN, they’re embracing life in London on their own terms and revelling in the mess.
It’s taken four cities to help create the music Tiberius b makes. With steely blue eyes and a buzzcut, Belcourt’s wheeled their bike into Deptford, which they now call home, for our interview. They’re warm and wry, speaking with a level-head about their past. It’s hard to imagine this is the same person who rolls around in bird shit and uncontrollably pisses in their music videos, but such is the contradiction of being Frank Belcourt.
Perhaps it’s even harder to imagine their grungey, urbane aesthetic given the rural idyll they were raised in. Belcourt hails from Cortes Island, located among the Discovery Islands archipelago on British Columbia coast in Canada. It’s a fifth of the size of London, and holds just over a thousand permanent residents. It was thus deeply isolated, and music was difficult to find: “My world here couldn’t resemble the world I grew up in any less in some ways,” Belcourt tells me. Luckily their parents were originally from England and Radiohead, Massive Attack, Portishead, and Blur were all routinely played in the Belcourt household.
It was a high-school music teacher that encouraged Belcourt to start making music, and soon after graduating, they moved to Vancouver and began putting out their first records under their birthname. Possibly the most entrancing album of that era was a brutal record detailing life after being broken up with, then run over by a van – all set to delicate, shimmering indietronic pop. “It was horrible,” they laugh, “but it was nice to have this physical manifestation of my pain, even though it was awful.”
“The Tiberius project came at the same time as trying to more openly explore that part of who I am,” they explain. “It’s a character, but it's not really a character. It's just my journey, and they're congruent with each other. It's kind of scary to put something out there that never goes away when you're on that path, and that there's a never ending backlog of moments in your history because I don't know what is going to happen with me and how I can express my gender. But I think that's also kind of cool.”
Three things to get excited about this week
The artist: Writing music to turn off the voices in her head, 25-year-old LA native ggwendolyn has her finger on the pulse of her generation. “Thought I’d get my shit together / But I blacked out all December,” she bemoans on “my year of rest & relaxation,” a song that takes its title from Ottessa Moshfegh’s book of the same name. “I started writing silly songs when I was in the fifth grade, but it wasn’t until I met my sister’s girlfriend who was a songwriter/producer that it clicked in my head that you could actually do that for your life,” ggwendolyn tells Best Fit. By the age of 14, she was on the writing camp circuit, and two years out of high school she was offered a record contract. At the time, she thought she had it made, but after the release of her debut E.P., the company dropped her. “I was nowhere near ready to be subjected to their opinions on the music and sound and whether or not it was right or wrong,” she says of the process. “I decided I needed to completely start over.” Now working under a new alias, ggwendolyn released nancy & the crooked cowboy earlier this summer, an E.P. of five lyrically clever, emotionally poignant, hyperpop-tinged tracks. If the project is any indication, it’s safe to say ggwendolyn is set for a major breakout moment any minute now.
The toy: If you thought Mattel’s supercharged Barbie push was over, think again. Last Sunday at her Madison Square Garden show, Stevie Nicks announced the launch of her own Barbie lookalike, the latest in Mattel’s line of Barbie musician tributes. “I was very overwhelmed, of course,” Nicks said of Mattel’s ask during the unveiling. “I questioned: ‘Would she look like me? Would she have my spirit? Would she have my heart?’” But once the final design was picked for the doll — who is wearing Nicks’ iconic 1977 Rumors outfit — she realized the answer was an unequivocal yes. “When I look at her,” Nicks wrote in a post on X, “I see my 27 year old self.”
The album: Out today, Hannah Diamond’s Picture Perfect is already being hailed by many - us included - as the year’s best pop record. Diamond calls it “a multi-layered self portrait,” but it’s more than that; Perfect Picture speaks volumes to her work across the digital landscape cementing her status as a cult icon behind both the camera and a microphone. Across its 12 tracks, Diamond presents her vision of pop perfectionism, having spent a lot of time in the studio with the album’s executive producer David Gamson discussing what truly makes a perfect pop song.
Their answer was that to achieve perfection you must capture the essence of an artist, and that’s exactly what Perfect Picture does – and far better than any of Diamond’s previous work too. Thematically it dissects the performative aspects of her career, life online, and her experience of girlhood with the help of Gamson and a slew of other collaborators who thrive in the space between pop’s underground and mainstream like Sundara Karma’s Oscar Pollock and the Dorian Electra and Rina Sawayama collaborator Marcus Andersson.
Something Old, Something New
Every week, one of our writers or editors share their recommendations of two records they love - one from the past, one from the present. This week, Best Fit writer Liam Inscoe-Jones on Loudon Wainwright III’s jovial 1973 album Attempted Moustache and Jaboukie’s 2023 release All who can’t hear must feel.
One of the most famous of the father/son folk act pairings in the history of modern music is Tim Buckley – the LA eccentric – and his impossibly handsome and vocally blessed son Jeff – the first man to write a version of “Hallelujah” which actually did Cohen’s justice. But over on the other coast there’s a criminally underrated mirror of that lineage: baroque pop dandy Rufus Wainwright and his dad, Loundon Wainwright III.
I had long admired Rufus, proving his chops into his fifties recently in 2022 on Carly Rae Jepsen’s sparkling “The Loneliest Time”. I didn’t know how famous his dad was but he was a New York native – a descendent of one of the original Dutch governors of New Amsterdam in fact – and I encountered him first because my mom loves swimming. “The Swimming Song” is the second most famous of Loundon’s tunes (according to Apple Music), and Mom sent me the song in a text when she heard it on the radio. That song is lovely, more a tune about keeping your head above water than moving through it, but the whole album is a gem. Its name – Attempted Moustache – does incredible justice to the tone and vibe of the music, which is breezy, a little melancholic, and quite goofy across the board. On “I Am the Way” he remakes Woody Guthrie’s “New York Town” with Jesus hanging out in Jerusalem instead, and “A.M. World” sends up his own growing fame: “They love my ass / I go first class / Who needs a heart of gold?” he sings. Every Wainwright fan needs to hear Loundon and every kid with a music-loving parent is a lucky one: thanks Mom.
There’s a habit in music writing of pretending that you’ve always heard of whatever it is you’re writing about, as if you, the writer, have every new release downloaded directly into your brain. This is not usually actually the case and Jaboukie’s debut album All Who Can’t Hear Must Feel is a recent example. I only heard it when my mate’s younger brother text our group chat to say “Have you heard the new Joboukie album, it’s actually great?” to which I replied “I don’t even know who that is”, to which he answered, “Honestly: that’s on you”. In other words: I’m old now, and this is more my mate Rob’s recommendation than mine.
But it was on me because the album is a great debut tape from a rising, young New York stand-up who shot straight for the light-footed, Neptunes-indebted bounce which lit up the early BROCKHAMPTON mixtapes and has come to define a particular arm of rap’s more colourful new generation, from Armani White to Abhi The Nomad. Jaboukie is a natural on the mic though, the type of rapper who makes hooks out of his verses (check out his first single “not_me_tho”) and laces plenty of eclecticism into the tape, from the guitar-driven grunge of “GONER” to the sultry “Cranberry Sauce”.
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 cuts from Willow Avalon, Bel Cobain, mary in the junkyard, Oscar #Worldpeace, and coverstar Angélica Garcia.
The Line of Best Fit is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.