Quartet sacrifices control, solidifies its identity on gorgeous, noisy label debut, 'Like Memory Foam'
Prior to signing with UK-based label Damnably Records, the bandmates in didi controlled every element of the music, from booking tours to pressing CDs. According to singer/bassist Leslie Shimizu, the group sold 200-odd copies of its self-titled 2015 debut, all of which were burned on her laptop, and singer/guitarist Kevin Bilapka-Arbelaez lamented the struggle of printing labels to sticker each batch of CDs.
“Every time I went to OfficeMax it was another three hours of starting over from the very beginning, giving them this art and them making the same mistakes,” said Bilapka-Arbelaez, seated beside Shimizu and singer/guitarist Meg Zakany at a Clintonville coffee shop (drummer Sheena McGrath, who completes the lineup, streamed in for the interview via video call).
With the forthcoming Like Memory Foam, the band's manufacturing responsibilities were limited to signing off on the album art, and as of late July plans were to pick up a shipment of 150 completed CDs while passing through Albuquerque, New Mexico, on tour, meaning copies will be available for sale when the group hosts a local “soft release” concert at Ace of Cups on Friday, Aug. 10.
The tradeoff has been sacrificing a degree of control, particularly in regards to the timeline. While the record was initially scheduled to debut prior to the Ace of Cups stop, the official release of Like Memory Foam has now been delayed until at least the fall, meaning it will surface a good two years after didi recorded the basic tracks.
In that time, the meaning behind many of the album's songs has continued to evolve, and in some cases deepen. A handful of tracks Bilapka-Arbelaez penned prior to Donald Trump's presidential nomination, for example, now feel more sharply political, including the Spanish-language “Muerde” and the knotty indie-rock tune “Dead Tongues.” “Corpses in suits with outdated ideas/Who refuse to relinquish their power,” Bilapka-Arbelaez sings on the latter.
“That's one where initially I was like, ‘OK, let's wax poetic on a general way politics could work rather than just holding on to these very old ideas,'” Bilapka-Arbelaez said. “Now, again, in the current political climate, it feels more relevant. More than ever it feels like, ‘Get 'em out of there.'”
“Muerde” has also taken on more inherently political meaning to the musician; against the backdrop of the ongoing immigration debate, even the decision to sing in Spanish plays like an act of defiance.
“The first lyric is about a spider in the darkness biting you as you sleep, and the whole idea of the song has sort of evolved into feeling complacent and content with how things are until some sort of event snaps you back into reality, like, ‘OK, there are a lot more nefarious things going on here than I thought earlier,'” Bilapka-Arbelaez said. “After Trump won the presidency, I feel like that whole song changed, and everything fit into this idea of what it means to come to terms with a new world you're living in. … Previously I was like, ‘Oh, this is a dreamy song; I wonder what I was thinking?' And now it's like, ‘Oh, this is absolutely what this is.'”
Elsewhere, the bandmates sing about the circle of life and death (the elliptical, bass-driven “Circles”) and the struggle of trying to help a friend who has given up (dreamy album closer “Beached”).
“It relates to loss in a way, as when someone close to you is losing touch with themselves and experiencing something physically and emotionally challenging, and they feel like this is the end, to be quite honest,” said Zakany, who hit upon the lyrical theme after waking from a dream in which she helped rescue a beached whale. “I wasn't bewildered or scared. I knew how to bring people in and push it back into the water, and I think that was symbolic of where I was with my friend at the time. When the song was finished and we listened back, I just cried.”
On an album with the scraping, feedback-soaked “Heavy Ghost,” which builds around guitars that mirror its title, and propulsive, Breeders-indebted numbers such as “Haru,” with its melodic, harmony-driven chorus, “Beached” is jarring for its relative stillness.
“I'm proud we were all confident enough to follow through … and write something soft and delicate that maintained a great sense of movement,” said McGrath, who employs cabasa on the track, a rhythmic instrument designed to echo soft ocean waves. (According to Bilapka-Arbelaez, his guitar is meant to mirror the thump of a boat against the dock, while Shimizu's cello recalls the whale's song.)
While the approach on “Beached” was purposeful, a central line on the record emerged accidentally.
“Meld into something new,” Bilapka-Arbelaez sings on “Anzaldua,” a song informed by the writings of Chicana author and cultural theorist Gloria Anzaldua. It's a line that could easily double as a description of didi as the bandmates continue to grow closer, allowing the music to evolve in new and unexpected directions. (For its next record, the band plans to experiment with synth-pop.)
“The first time around we were really trying to figure out, ‘Is this a didi song? Does this make sense? What is our sound? What are we doing?' I think maybe there were more existential question like that,” Bilapka-Arbelaez said. “I feel like the second time around it wasn't even a question. There was more confidence in the music and a more solidified identity. … It was like, ‘When you get the four of us together, that's didi.'”