by Jason McCullum
Phoebe Bridgers is responsible for aiding many music fans through a grim 2020. After an impressive slew of releases throughout the back half of the 2010s, Bridgers released Punisher last June to widespread acclaim, quickly becoming one of the most talked about individuals in the music industry. One of her biggest announcements from last year that flew under the radar was the unveiling of her independent record label, Saddest Factory Records. Despite remaining quiet for a majority of 2020, the label has finally announced their first artist, Claud, who released their debut album Super Monster roughly a month ago.
Going into the release, many of the singles felt a little uninspired and lacked a definite identity of who Claud is and what makes them special. Still, it was certainly a highly anticipated release given Bridgers’ stamp of approval, making this the first album that Saddest Factory decided to present to listeners. As a whole piece, Super Monster still suffers a bit from a lack of identity as a majority of the songs have a relatively simplistic indie singer-songwriter feel. However, listening to this album over the past month while watching the snow melt away from my Chicago apartment has increased my enjoyment of the project. As the sun peeks out from the clouds, ringing in spring, this album does an admirable job of soundtracking the feeling of wanting to enjoy the world, yet feeling forced to stay in due to the pandemic.
While these are not songs specifically about continued quarantine due to Covid-19, the uneasy aesthetic Claud presents amidst fuzzy vocals and lo-fi production helps to represent the melancholic feeling of gazing at beautiful nature from the indoor world. Specifically for Chicago listeners, Claud, as a Highland Park native, presents songs such as “Guard Down” and “This Town” that boast appreciation for all the city has to offer, despite hoping that the world may be better in other places. Specifically referring to “This Town,” they describe a desire to move away from hardship, regardless of the location.
There are moments like “That’s Mr. Bitch To You” that are a bit braggadocious, revealing the confidence that many start to recognize as life grows warmer as spring draws closer. However, many of these moments are later juxtaposed with songs such as “Jordan” that wrestle with the troubles of experiencing life in what are supposed to be joyful months. Claud begs to not deal with drama, as July approaches and people revert back to old habits that limit their overall happiness. In other words, Claud struggles as people change to fit how they want to be perceived by others. Overall, the lyrical themes of the album can inspire any indie kid to tap into their inner sadness when moving into a new season.
Tonally, the album ultimately leaves something to be desired. There are moments on the album where the production is meticulously lo-fi to help hound in Claud’s unsteady feelings. “In or In-Between” is an excellent example of Claud’s ability to blend lyrical emotion with instrumental inventions. However, at times it feels that the engineers and producers are working at a subpar level because they are unable to offer more. A song such as the lead single “Gold” sees the instrumentals sounding a bit mushed together, making it difficult to distinguish between the clear melodies being played. For an album that presents a warm and upbeat sound, the guitars and drums might benefit from coming off brighter and more articulate, potentially backed by dry bass lines to help listeners tap their toes. Alas, this is rarely presented on the production front.
Still, many of the instrumental passages are relatively pretty despite a weak mix, with plenty surprising and creative choices. For example, the lowkey opener, “Overnight,” has some lovely organ melodies that lay softly behind the major, mid tempo guitar leads. The musical performances as a whole are nothing groundbreaking, but they are written in a simple and pretty enough fashion that they sound ripe for a mid-afternoon vinyl listening session. Another example of eccentric instrument combinations comes on “Cuff Your Jeans.” Immediately, the listener is presented with contrasting guitar leads, one that opts for a clean, shimmering tone, while the other is incredibly low and distorted. The contiguity of the differing tones is a bold choice on the performance side that pays off wonderfully. They are by no means as unique as they could be, but the interesting blend of instruments and straightforward chord progressions could have gone over far worse.
Super Monster is probably not the finest debut release that Saddest Factory could have presented listeners, but it certainly fits the bill for a relatively sad listen with plenty of uplifting moments to save it from the depths of driving listeners to a deep depression. This is mainly commendable, as songs that are more inherently sad would feel uncharacteristic for Claud at this point in their career. The highest point of this record is Claud’s songwriting abilities, primarily on the lyrical side of things. For a debut, Claud manages to present far more individualistic qualities than most indie singer-songwriters do on a first pass. At the end of the day, critiques aside and with hopes that they can establish a bit more personality, the future looks bright for both Claud and Saddest Factory Records.