Updated: Feb 28, 2020
Editor-in-Chief Savannah Bradley talks the 18-year-old singer-songwriter Georgia Ochoa's new EP, which moves beyond the boundaries of D.I.Y. anger or, likewise, the glossy sheen of radio-oriented lo-fi pop; instead, she's carving out space for her own dreamy, effortless sound. ★★★★
Half a decade ago, Teen Suicide, now known as American Pleasure Club, released the nocturnal, sullen hum of DC Snuff Film / Waste Yrself, a small EP that joined a panoply of other Bandcamp-released fuzzy, basement-pop records about wanting to die. In 2015, it was hard to find anything about its sound or message particularly novel, but its popularity radically transformed the way we think about self-released music— one of the few lo-fi records to venture outside of its niche and into the hazardous waters of the mainstream, with its sluggish longing giving it a deep, unmatched wisdom. With acts like Clairo, Frankie Cosmos, Ryan Beatty, and other money-born pop insurrectionists finding unprecedented success since then, Teen Suicide/American Pleasure Club/whatever you’d like to call it has cemented itself as their unenthusiastic grandfather, dictating what would become the groundwork of the late-2010’s bedroom pop revival.
But what, inevitably, happens when that sound becomes commodified, polished, and stripped of the churlish anger that defined it? One could point to Clairo & co. as milking it for what its worth and leaving its ethos as the door; others towards Bandcamp’s decline to powerhouses like Soundcloud. But what we’re really left with is a generation of artists who understand lo-fi’s existential angst, but aren’t asking you to rage along with them— they’re asking you to listen.
Seagoth, the project of eighteen-year-old singer/songwriter Georgia Ochoa, takes the building blocks of 2010’s lo-fi, the electroclash of predecessors like Le Tigre, and the hypnotism of late-90’s shoegaze and seamlessly engineers them into a sound all her own. Her previous EP, House Party for Ghosts, feels like a direct response to lo-fi’s basement rock sound, all analog warmth with swinging guitars and a sweet simplicity that reminds you of how its architects, from Guided By Voices to Sebadoh, constructed it in the first place. But the album’s follow-up, Internet Cafe, released February 7th, is focused more so on the poppier elements of do-it-yourself music, with a synthy, psychedelic veneer coating a deep-seated sense of unease.
"Internet Cafe is a saga of me feeling sorry for myself. It’s a bunch of lo-fi-pop tracks that my feelings have physically manifested into. Instead of crying in the shower I’ll write a synth melody and then cry in the shower. It's also my first ever EP that I've produced on a computer and mastered myself,” Ochoa writes on Bandcamp. It shows: reverb’d keyboards abound, and several tracks make use of grainy, talked-through samples; in reality, they’re vocal cuts from British lecturer Alan Watts. The fit is surprisingly natural; she certainly sounds more at ease here than ever before, like how she sounds against the light guitars of House Party for Ghosts’ “Cool!” and “Wildflower,” where the folk fripperies sound at odds with Ochoa’s strong, plainspoken voice.
The EP brings with it a sense of intimacy and cleverness that other bedroom pop acts have forgotten about. Produced in her bedroom using GarageBand, an iPhone, and a Strat, the uptempo tracks are breezy, chill; the ballads apocalyptic enough to hypnotize— “This is a ballad for the end of the world,” she opines on the latter half of the album, on the track of the same name. “Nothing can ever stay the same.” From a lesser artist, it’d feel hackneyed, but it’s played straight; the vocals calm, the guitars lush, thick, and taking their time. You believe Ochoa is building the song on a glossy cliche, but as the track builds to a sonic eruption, you’re delighted to realize that you’re the pawn on Ochoa’s board.
Perils do lie this way: its ambient gloom occasionally obscures its pure poetry, like on “Exist,” its final track, tiptoeing to the edge of opaqueness. “Nothing seems fine anymore / I’m not interested in what you have to say,” she tells us, and we, remarkably, continue to listen. If the lyrics on the EP had any less of the ardency, strength, and delicate apathy than what we’re given, they would collapse into themselves. The album is an exercise in restraint; the songs build modestly, and that’s what makes them work. Opener “Internet Cafe” builds quietly: a little drum fill, a gossamer-light disco melody, less of a breakdown than a heart skip. “Tricky Feeling” could’ve easily been overpowered by its intricate synth work, reminiscent of Giorgio Moroder, but suffocates it under a layer of guitar, and ultimately proves Ochoa as a writer and producer capable of creating effortless radio hooks. The closest thing to trend-chasing is the glittery lo-fi trip-hop beat on “Somewhere Between the Stars and Falling Apart,” but it isn’t there to make the song swell, but instead to dissolve it away, leaving behind a dreamy arrangement that feels more sophisticated and deliberate than the work of her contemporaries.
The restraint here isn’t just to be tasteful, but to keep the focus on the angst and alienation Ochoa feels. In an interview with Bitter Sweet Symphonies, Ochoa says of the title track, “I thought that it was almost symbolic. She was an aspiring actress but things just weren’t working out for her, so she killed herself in the most attention-seeking way,” referencing the title track's inspiration, the 1932 death of Peg Entwistle after jumping off the H of the Hollywood sign. No matter how uptempo Ochoa lets the music get, it’s still coated in a layer of despair— standard for lo-fi, but also, in Ochoa’s vision, remarkably true.
When we talk about the work Teen Suicide and their peers built, and the money-driven future of bedroom pop, we forget about how difficult it is to craft a piece of work that is saturnine and existential without meandering into surface-level analysis or unjustified, discouraging anger. Seagoth is able to avoid both. This isn’t an artist that’s graduated from lo-fi into hi-fi or has choreographed a sharp movement towards a more readily-acceptable sound. Instead, Ochoa’s work shines as a testament to what the internet has done to music in the past ten years, and feels like the presaged culmination of what other artists, from radio-friendly acts like Frankie Cosmos to indie acts like Dreamgirl, have tried time and time again to achieve. It’s beautiful, catchy, miserable, pensive, atmospheric, sophisticated, messy, arcane, and, at the end of the day, deeply casual. On Bandcamp, Ochoa writes, “We all know the world is ending and I’m just singing about it.” And we’re all the better for it. ★★★★
Savannah Bradley is a 20-year-old writer and the founder and Editor-in-Chief of media platform HALOSCOPE. Her work has appeared in Rookie Magazine, bedfellows, and Lithium, among other outlets. Pitch or send her pictures of Tori Amos online @SAVBRADS.