Superstar is an underdog story, and one not far off from Caroline Rose’s real life. After a years-long struggle to release what would ultimately become 2018’s LONER, deemed “a singular artistic statement from it’s unforgettable album art all the way down” (Pitchfork), Rose found herself in the midst of a new widespread audience, one both delightfully intrigued and perplexed about how and where to place her. That, combined with a developed set of studio skills and a challenge to “make something from nothing,” marked the beginning of Superstar. Gone are the polished Hollywood hunks and starlets of olde. Here is a shamelessly odd hero, or rather anti-hero, on a quest to become a someone.
Inspired by cult classics such as The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, Mulholland Drive and the mockumentary Drop Dead Gorgeous, Superstar plays out like a film with a beginning, middle, and an open ending. In album opener “Nothing’s Impossible,” the protagonist receives a mistaken phone call from the glamorous Chateau Marmont hotel. Taking the call as a sign toward a star-studded future, they (gender neutral pronoun) leave behind everything in pursuit of a newly established destiny.
What ensues is a cinematic paradox that in one moment finds them strutting down a neon strip in full Saturday Night Fever hip-swing donned in their finest threads, and the next sipping a dirty martini at the rundown apartment complex pool, dwelling on life’s unfortunate turns. It’s a narrative Rose pulled directly from the somewhat shameless desires of her own growing ambition, as well as the public breakdowns of several notable celebrities. “To me, the satire is in what we’ll do and put up with in order to be successful. I wanted to make a story out of those parts of myself that are for the most part undesirable, then inject them with steroids.”
Rose worked on the album in order of the story’s timeline, ensuring each track represented a chapter of the narrative in her head. Songs bursting with self-aggrandizement often reveal moments of vulnerability. “Feel The Way I Want” leads us with boisterous confidence through heartache by refusing to let pain get the best of us. Disguised as a Prince-infused bop, “Do You Think We’ll Last Forever?” expresses the uncertainty and anxiety that come with seeing a new partner, ending in a full blown freakout of bottled up nervous energy. The S&M-fueled love song “Freak Like Me” and the darkly comedic “Command Z” ultimately expose a fragile person coming to terms with their own humanity. Rose sings, “I looked around at all the people there / as I thought everyone we know will know will someday be dead / God, I just don’t want it to end / Undo, I’m gonna do it again”.
Rose began formulating the songs and ideas for a sequel-esque follow-up to LONER in between the band’s near-incessant touring schedule, from playing sold out headline shows across the country and beyond, to becoming fan favorites at some of the world’s biggest festivals. “Two years ago I started touring with nothing, not knowing if I’d even have a career. Then all of a sudden we were playing to hundreds of people in a town I’d never heard of. The whole thing was fascinating. It got me thinking, just how much can you build from nothing?” As a result, Superstar was written, recorded and produced by Rose in her 10’x12’ home studio, as well as on a portable rig she’d set up in green rooms while on tour.
Superstar is a bigger, badder, glitter-filled cinematic pop record for weirdos. “I realized at some point that I’m not going to fit into any one box, and maybe that’s a good thing. This new record is me embracing feeling like an outsider making my own path,” Rose says. One part satire, one part self-reflection, Rose’s anti-hero personifies much of what we as casual on-lookers are wont to poke fun at, dismiss or denigrate, yet deep down likely aspire to be. Someone who, whether warranted or not, refuses to let anyone dictate their own life’s narrative.
In July 2016, Alex Toth was recovering from a broken foot and a broken heart, stuck in his fourth-floor apartment in Brooklyn with cast and crutches. This is where Tōth's "achingly beautiful" debut album, Practice Magic and Seek Professional Help When Necessary, was born.
A few months earlier, Alex and his Rubblebucket cofounder and love of more than eleven years had "consciously uncoupled," after a period of helping each other through devastating challenges. Alex was lightning-struck by sadness. "Almost convalescent" at times, in his words, though rarely still. A jazz trumpeter by training, Alex is always, always writing. And that spring, a new kind of music started to come -- raw, stripped-down songs unfurling without agenda, bent over an acoustic guitar. It never occurred to Alex that he was making an album.
The idea sprouted in songwriting sessions with his friend Kimbra, when she heard this new sound and encouraged Alex to make a record. But it didn't solidify until June 2016, when Alex was onstage with his punk project, Alexander F, and broke his foot. Stuck there in his apartment all summer, Tōth came to life.
Practice Magic and Seek Professional Help When Necessary, released May 2019 from Northern Spy Records (worldwide) and Figureight Records (UK/Europe), is a self-help guide unlike any other -- a breakup album before wholeness, but after anger. The album turns as it goes, through "lush, windswept sonics" (Gorilla Vs. Bear), bebop trumpet solos, and spare guitar, recalling the Beach Boys in one bar and Arthur Russell in the next. It's an album for remembering and letting go -- and discovering what magic remains.