• Marty Gross

The album you probably weren't talking about on Valentine's Day

Since our world is currently turning on its head and we are heading into an apocalyptic nightmare, I think there are two things we need to focus on. To stop our psychological horror and ripping the heads off our family members from simply spending too much time with them, while we are isolated from outside interaction, we need to resort to something that puts us in some peace. As you can probably tell before reading this, what I resort to in times of turmoil, or really anytime, is music. But music alone is not enough in these dire times, we must also need to incorporate love. To love your friends you can’t see, to love the things that you have that are right besides you, and most importantly, to love the family that you are “stuck” with. I think this next album that I will be talking about is what we all need.

About a month ago, this past Valentine's Day gave us a plethora of great records. If you wanted to lay in angst and drown in the sorrows of your ex girlfriend, you could listen to no future by EDEN. If you wanted to take heavy psychedelics and completely forget your ex girlfriend, and your own existence, you could listen to The Slow Rush by Tame Impala. Hell, if you wanted to kill your ex girlfriend and go on a rampage of terror in every female in your path, you could listen to STOP STARING AT THE SHADOWS by $uicideboys$ (Burbsent does not condone any of these actions written here as they are just hyperbolas). While all of these are fantastic releases, there was one release that swept under the radar which more people outside of bedroom pop should be talking about.  An album that I think we need to be more cognizant of as all of us progress through life.

On Valentine’s Day of this year, bedroom pop artist Zack Villere (also spells Zack with CK which is the CORRECT way) dropped his heavily anticipated sophomore album Cardboard City. Zack Villere started to make waves in the bedroom pop scene in 2017 after his debut album Little World and had his cult following begging for more. After a cluster of singles from 2017 through 2019, and a steady growth of anticipation, Zack announced his album would be released on the day of love or to some, complete utter sadness. Because I was a huge fan of Little World, I was pretty excited to give Cardboard City a listen. So when 11 pm hit on that Thursday, February 14, I threw on the buds, layed in my bed, and really just listened.

34 minutes and 26 seconds later, I was truly astonished. I wanted the world to listen alongside me. I wanted it to be played from the mountain tops. I wanted people to feel the sonic delicacy that I felt. Its innocence and purity mixed with graceful synths comforted my ears. I listened and listened but the one thing I couldn’t do was translate the beauty of it into words. I just didn’t know what to say. But now, after a month of listening, I finally can. I can truly say why I fucking love this album so much.

And it all starts with nostalgia. Throughout the listening experience, I really felt I was sent back to my childish ways of life. If you were a nerd, like me, you probably had these same thoughts. The interlude “My Hero!!” sent me back to the worship of superheroes like Batman or Moon Knight (I have no idea if y’all know who that is but that shows how much of a nerd I am). As Zack marinates me with funny dialogue and a droll scenario, it reminds me of sitting down on my carpet, getting lost into corny cartoons. I put these characters on a pedestal and Zack put these dreams into a reality with the song. The piano chords that open “Superhero Strength” mixed with the squeaky synths remind me of trying to gain the courage to ask my first love on a date. Zack looks for the courage that these characters hold to motivate him in his life. The cuteness and innocence that illuminates off of each syllable warms my heart with every listen.

And with nostalgia comes fantastic storytelling. There are songs like “No Country” whoses J’von feature explores the imagination of a child making a story. The song mentions an “Alaskan Bull Worm” (only true cartoon fans will get that reference) and describes the chaotically goofy adventure of a cowboy. On the track “Rope Swing”,  Zack talks about a kid who tries to build the gallantry to be able to jump from a rope into some water. The song contains a jumbled stew of piano chords, clave taps, and cynical synths which reflects the chaotic but calm mind of someone nervously trying to do something cool to impress their friend. There is even a song called “Knockout” where the narrator of the track talks in third person about a boxer who is nervous for his next fight. Story after story shocks me back into my childhood and punches me into an adolescent mindset. Quotes like “I try to drive away but I don't get far, So I cry in the safety of my car, I will never be comfortable” or “Why do we fight from long distance, I, I miss you” bring you closer and closer to Zack as he extinguishes every ounce of misery that he gets from his childhood relationships. You experience the album with him. Cardboard City feels like you are surrounded by a campfire while Zack shares bits and pieces of his life. The stories not only open up his melancholy, but open up previous thoughts of love I have had in the past.

The stories also come with a unique teller. Zack’s childish and squeaky voice compliments the soft and delicate instrumentals in such a graceful way. The voice and dialogue of Zack blend so well together to support his exploration of love that a child first has. Yes, some may consider the lyrics corny, however, I don't believe these people comprehend the nuanced theme. The "corniness" comes from the fact that that's how some of us truly felt while trying to understand our feelings of love for the first time. They can be weird and a little too much at times, but that’s how we all have felt for someone at one point in our lives. We were just too scared to say it.

The voice fits perfectly with the production on here. The instrumentals on here were absolutely fucking sick. All of the album is written and produced by Zack, which makes the entire album even more impressive. Just like when we are kids, all of our creative spurts of imagination we had, had to be a “do it yourself” project. Zack’s DIY project reflects the DIY aspects of our childhood aspirations. And these childish aspirations led to fantastic production. Cynical synths in songs like “Rope Swing” or “Tunnel” really add to the complexity of each individual track. It feels like you are drowning in a sonic swimming pool of blended happiness. These synths mixed with wild and gnarly 808’s like on “A Feeling” can drastically change the mood of the song and make you always stay on your feet. The twinkled guitar in the track “Knockout” adds a spicy kick to the track and propels the song to a sweet level. All of these kooky instrumentals and vocal performances really distinguishes Zack’s style and separates him from some of the “time stamps” his fellow colleagues of bedroom pop have.

But what one of my favorite parts of the album that is completely aside from the music, is the cover art and the name of the album. Starting with the cover art, it looks like you were to give a child a picture and tell them to do whatever they wanted. Random stickers strapped over the screen and chaotic, scrambled text smeared on it. While some may find it ugly, I think it fits the theme beautifully. The name of the album is also perfect. It is exactly the type of shit you would think of building as a kid. Kids living in our own little cardboard city and isolated from the rest of grueling society. Trapped in a comfortable, imaginative place.

And as I wrap up this little review and you will go one with your day, if I didn’t really inspire you to listen to the album fully, I at least want you to get the message that Zack spoke to me through this album. Especially in a time of pure isolation, we can reflect on our lives and see how we can change it for better when we are able to escape our house. Don’t ever forget your youth. Don’t ever stop being creative. Don’t ever stop being imaginative. And most importantly, don’t ever stop being YOU. We all still have that little kid in us. Some of us have the power to show it everyday, while others have it deeply repressed within us. But sometimes it is cool to be a little geeky and corny. Some of us just don’t have the balls to do it. Find that inner you, in you. Cardboard City is the epitome of that.  Well, that’s all I got. Peace!!