2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Phyllis Ophelia)
by Steven Spoerl
Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.
In one of the earlier pieces contributed to this edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories Lindsey-Paige McCloy paid tribute to her friend — and Catbus bandmate — Phyllis Ophelia. A tireless creator, Ophelia was responsible for a fair amount of the music that struck a chord with this site in 2016, so to be hosting this piece is a privilege. Here, Ophelia takes us through some of the bands that deserve loving tribute. Explore their work and enjoy.
My favorite moments during this and last year have been sudden, pulsing revelations that I can just hop off the fence and make the music and that’s it. A lot of these moments have been triggered by other people’s brave example, and since I have leaned heavily on these folks, even just in my own mind, I would like to use this opportunity to pay tribute to a few of them.
My friend and collaborator Lauren Escobar introduced me to her work a couple years ago, and this November we finally got to see her perform at the new Nublu. Her latest album, La Papessa, chases away dread, but her live set goes several steps farther. She seems as content playing and improvising with her samples as she is silencing her machines and singing repeating, insistent lines a capella, for minutes at a time. She is as powerful in each of these capacities.
I saw her perform twice this year, the first because I had the good fortune to be invited to play a festival she also played, through Outlier Recordings, and the second being her EP release. NOIA is a conjurer. Her bilingual lyrics reference mythology and science, stuff and names you’ll recognize, but my takeaway is that she is low-key world-building. The worlds of her devising are vibrant, exciting places, and “Habits” is a breathless trip through them.
I unintentionally used her flickering dream of a song, “Body 1”, released in mid-September, as a ladder out of a depressive episode. In the song, she repeats the lines, “you can keep my body, you can keep it here with you,” and “I want to be kind,” as the instrumentation shifts and clicks and swells in diverse ways, and my exhausted mind was just like, “yes”. The song came and found me where I was at and pulled me out, and I am very grateful.
I’m pretty sure Opal was the first music artist at the first No Boys Allowed showcase in February, which I almost didn’t attend, did anyway, but then was too much in my head to talk to anyone. I’m also pretty sure the first song she played in her set was an enchanting solo version of “Follow the Leader”, as sweet disco ball lights pivoted around the room. That song is on her Australia EP, and it is another of my favorite things about this year, especially the vocal arrangement. I also just heard her play at Trans-Pecos with a fab band, while she wrecked on key-tar, and just, yes.
I want to thank Michelle Zauner for Psychopomp, because it is an incredibly generous work, but especially for the “Everybody Wants to Love You” video where she’s drunk around town in a hanbok. If I could, I would take that video back in time to when I was a confused, painfully self-conscious little half Korean girl playing covers of old white men’s guitar music and wondering why.