ALBUM IN A SENTENCE: A fully confident third album from a group that fuse the flavours of emo and jazz to explore the challenges and heartbreaks inherited by people with mixed-raced identity in modern America.
Food and music go together. Whether it’s Shakespeare’s ‘if music be the food of love’, Aretha Franklin belting ‘Think’ in a soul food diner, or any consideration of what it means to live in a culture glut, food and music are essential companions.
Really From, the eponymous third album from the Boston quartet, invites a culinary vocabulary to help explore its musical style and lyrical themes. The artwork depicts an Asian woman with her hair held by a knife and fork instead of chopsticks. This is a powerful image that bathetically illustrates the way people of mixed-race in America are doubly bound; too other to be permitted to be anything but a stereotype, but too American to bring that stereotype to meaningful reality. It is, of course, utterly tragic that Really From has been released at a moment where the long history of racial hatred towards Americans of Asian descent has been spotlighted by the Atlanta spa shootings.
What sets Really From apart from most other bands is the way in which they might be considered to represent indie rock as a fine dining experience. If your average indie rock band were a food, what would it be? A greasy halloumi burger at a festival, a plate of lasagne? Something street or homely, yes? Really From draw on the musical flavours of Boston, emo, melodic rock, a pinch of the Breeders, a dash of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, but refine them, filtering them with a jazz ethic and training that rejects cliché and repetition. Really From is an album of colossal dedication and craft that reflects a commitment to growth, evolution and distillation over multiple albums. This is a band that have trained and worked towards creating a signature, Michelin Star quality, taster menu of sound.
Really From is packed full of intricate, dynamic, addictively flavourful playing; the jazz ethic also working into a democratic structure where each voice is heard. None of the ingredients get muddied or mistreated. Even when, as at the crescendo of ‘Quirk’, drummer Sander Bryce and Trumpeter Mat Hull bring big band style syncopation while Guitarist Chris Lee-Rodriguez and Keyboard player Michi Tassey are driving the song’s point home, everything comes together and is elevated.
Lyrically, the album explores the ways that the band feel guilt, anger, blame for the ways that they are not enough for who they are, telling of the struggle to learn the Spanish and Japanese of their grandparents and experiencing rejection from a white culture that fetishizes and constrains them. If one song encapsulates the album lyrically, it would be ‘I’m from here’. This song explores how people of mixed-race have to live with giant forces that they have so little control over; ancestry, parenting, societal perceptions that create barriers to belonging. There’s a perfect moment when Michi Tassey responds to Chris Lee-Rodriguez’s line ‘I come from a brown and ancient skin’ with the immediate ‘So let me in’.
There is nothing cheap in Really From’s approach to making music. This album is not a food hall where you just walk in and pick something to eat from this counter or that. It’s a restaurant where the menu draws on the passion, training and instincts of the chefs. It’s a plate where disparate elements and cultures are blended together experimentally, of concentrated flavours and vibrant, colourful elements. Really From taste great. Let them in.