Depressica’s breakout full-length Distance Makes The Heart Grow Somber (hereon Distance), came to me at a perfect time. Before I tell you why you should listen to this album, a relevant tangent is in order. Jess Mayuga and I graduated together, which is why I feel a lot of the same existential themes experienced on this incredible debut. To bring you up to date, Jess is a dear friend whom I “met” during college. Having said that, we’ve only met in person once in passing, and our first spoken conversation didn’t happen until a few months ago during a recorded phone call for a podcast. Nevertheless, I value her internet friendship and her artistry, especially since she provided me with a much needed coping-mechanism in her 7-track record.
This review is rather delayed on my part, especially since I had the first preview of the album months ago. It’s taken me this long to compose my thoughts, since I’ve needed to spend a lot time with this album as it just hit too close to home. The frame of reference which culminated in the creation of Jess’ songs, reflected many of the feelings I currently have. In the same “weird transitional period” of post-grad life which foregrounds Depressica’s writing, I’ve been down in the dumps having a hard time adjusting and figuring out what’s next–both creatively and professionally. This album evokes that sense of the unknown when on the journey into adulthood-proper, with instrumentals that are inherently transitional: anxious, shaky guitar lines, a sense of nostalgia in its deceptive simplicity, and delicate vocal harmonies that hit like a haunting Hallelujah. It’s been hard to put into words what this album does, because I needed to allow this music to soothe me before I could convey its exceptionalism.
We’ve all had a rough 2016, don’t I know it, but what’s hitting me hard is that my year started off great and now I’m reeling personally, professionally & creatively. They don’t prepare you for the day after graduation, when reality hits you in the face and you just gotta take it. I was sure that in less than three months after graduating, I would find a paid starter-job in my field while also growing IndieBeat with the adage of a few people to the crew. To put it simply, it all fell through. Here I am in November: tired, creatively-drained, overworked and underpaid (considering my dedication to the many unpaid projects I’m involved in, while mooching off my very supportive family members in the stereotypical image that baby-boomers have of us millennials).
I’ve never related to Rory Gilmore more, as I went from honors-student to unemployed, nomadic “writer” (complete with writer’s block, taking on any assignment just to catch a break), faster than you can say “oy with the poodles already.” The only piece of music that comes close to Distance in capturing this hollow moment in my existential journey comes from the current and deservingly it-guy: Lin Manuel Miranda with the song “Breathe” from his first musical (my personal all-time favorite) In The Heights. In other words, Jess Mayuga is a fantastic songwriter (up there with the man who penned Hamilton), who can capture nuanced sentiments. She paints a vivid image of the still-yet-dramatic moments when caught in a questioning time, as well as depicts the limited personal connections one has to balance in the meantime. Modern-20-something-realism at its best.
I’ve listened to Distance (in one capacity or another) everyday on constant repeat, not only because I wanted to write about it, but also because it’s a visceral depiction of the tumultuous headspace one’s in while in-between things—a personal tale as if Jess Mayuga is talking right to you in a dark café as you both just try to breathe and withstand a true bummertime summer (a scene that is not farfetched if you know Jess, the coffee-loving woman whom I have previously called more genuine than Annie Clark).
Depressica is getting me through my lapsing blue-period, while also giving me moments of inspiration, since I now have proof that something so captivating can emerge from this ambiguous period. I guess it’s kind of fitting that I’m writing this in transit, on a train—moving forward watching life pass me by, but feeling as if I am still and vulnerable amidst commuting strangers—as this album is the epitome of transitional. Mayuga wrote this in the time “between graduating college in my hometown and going to graduate school in Seattle (and almost not going to graduate school in Seattle).” It is a testament to the feelings of seemingly frozen-time, as one ends one chapter and figures out how to the turn the page to the next. Distance is a comforting album for anyone who is unsure of what’s to come, but willing to persevere. It is kindling for creativity, just as it the paysage outside this light-rail window.
What’s so amazing about this collection of songs is the instrumental orchestration that pairs ever so well with her lyrical wit. The atmospheric elements put listeners right in the middle of things: the droning organ in Bobby Pins, the subtle nod to folk-rock influences in the twangy electric-guitar arpeggios throughout, and the slight fuzz that gives it an analog feel.
The use of the nursery rhyme Rain Rain Go Away in the opening track Seattle evokes a childhood nostalgia. But it also denotes the longing for a new setting as Depressica places herself in the future, noting her forthcoming move from home in sunny Southern California to the Rainy City. There’s a tension in that move, a should I stay or should I go? tug and pull. “It’s ironic that the sky is gray, but this is where I’m happy. Rain, rain, where’d you go? I miss you more than you should know. It feels like it was years ago that I last saw you smile.” Seattle is the yearning for cleansing, a sort of baptism, but with a bitterness in mind that comes from knowing you have to leave some things behind. It’s the perfect introduction to album full of similar quandaries.
The album almost demands you listen to it from start to finish, as the songs are fairly short with almost abrupt, open-ended endings that match the many unanswered questions one has in the moments of the “reflection and introspection” that Depressica writes about. Each question leads to another, just as each song flows into the next. The narrative arc of the album is very much a stream of consciousness, as the detailed lyrics depict the feelings that stew when one is alone and left with endless time to just revisit the past.
Those vivid details are displayed in the lead single Bobby Pins, where Jess illustrates a Nick & Nora-type scene, where a tale of courtship & intimacy is soundtracked by the indie music played on the stereo. It’s a pensive track, with vocals that almost seem filtered through a phone call, as if Depressica left us a post-breakup voicemail. The instrumentals reminisce Courtney Barnett’s Depreston, a similar storytelling song that encapsulates the reflection of relationship-minutiae turned profound self-realization: “I’m coming home but on a different route.” Nick & Nora turned out to be more like Tom & Summer—just friends.
The most uplifting song comes in Love Song for My Best Friend. Though the track is written with a specific person in mind, the song feels like we’re all Depressica’s closest cohorts, as she comforts us with witty reassurance about the correlation between stars & blood. It’s as she is our fairy with the turquoise hair making us feel like real participants of this universe, as we all have stars coursing through our veins. “I think our bond is a heavenly sign, that people were meant to have others in mind. I’m thankful for whatever God’s plan might be, because he made sure you existed with me.”
About Brief Conversations with the Other Side, Mayuga told us, “part of it reflects imaginary conversations with people around me and the other part is a cry for help: Am I doing this right? How will I know I’m going to be okay?” Those questions loom in the melancholic background of the song. You can sense the agony in the pained delivery of such vulnerable lyrics. Right in the middle of the album we get the most aching and open track, begging listeners to answer Depressica’s mayday call. We are now immersed in her state of mind, with stimulating guitar frills and swooshing effects drawing us in as sympathetic shoulders ready to embrace our frustrated friend.
The boozy Nothing Heavier reminisces the tone of St. Vincent’s Actor, specifically The Party, but with a more visceral, purging bite. The 97-second track is a moment of clarity, the preface leading into Fondly. As Mayuga notes, Fondly is the inverse of Brief Conversations, with slight-optimism peeking through as she prepares to depart to Seattle. “I know I’ll be fine with the passing of time, but I’ll always think fondly of you,” Depressica sings leading into a cathartic guitar breakdown. The edginess comes out as some faith in herself restores. She’s ready to withstand any hardship ahead of her, because she has the strength to power through.
Bruised is the moment we come to the crossroads. The most nostalgic guitar line on the record opens the track. We feel the mist upon us, as Depressica reflects on all the questioning and pain her “weird transitional period” cast upon her. It’s time to move on, even though it’ll be hard, but it’s definitely time. This is the song that describes the post-grad angst best: “Maybe I’m just doing this all wrong. Has it been within me all along? I’m getting tired and I’m getting much older, but I’ve never been so lost and confused. And I’m still awake at the end of October, breathing and weak I am beaten and bruised. I didn’t want any of this, all I wanted was to know I was missed.” Though beaten and uncertain, one must move forward and cross the road. After all, we’re all still breathing going into December. Though the distance created by the move to Seattle will make the heart grow somber, the heart also grows stronger.
Even the physical version of Distance evokes these same themes of anxious transition, with a feel like one of Depressica’s moving boxes. A cardboard sleeve carries a hand-burned CD, like a personalized mixtape made by a dear friend. Cliff Field’s incredible black-and-white album artwork of a dog on the road is printed on textured photo paper, a literal piece of art from an artist’s private collection—a makeshift polaroid to remember her by. The track list is handwritten on the back, like a thoughtful goodbye letter. The album is the manifestation of Jess’ move, as she crafts it “using leftover supplies from my house.” Receiving the album in the mail is like getting an unexpected postcard you will forever cherish. Utter perfection.
Distance Makes The Heart Grow Somber is a magnificent testimonial of post-grad experience, a collection of love and longing, distance and intimacy, fondness and melancholy. It fills any sense of emptiness with purpose, and ultimately makes you feel connected with yourself and with your loved ones. Honest, unassuming and grounding, this is one of the most mesmerizing albums of the year.
Distance Makes The Heart Grow Somber is available on Bandcamp and your favorite streaming site. If you buy the album on Bandcamp through the end of the year, all proceeds will be donated to the ACLU.