July 8, 2019
Released On September 9, 2014
Released By Tiny Engines
This is not a eulogy.
Earlier this year, Cayetana announced that they will be playing their final shows together. Not only did I buy tickets for the Brooklyn show the moment they became available, but I sent text after text to friends to make sure that they did the same. I also considered requesting time off from work and buying tickets for their show in Philly, but that plan never really took off (hey, I also had to pay rent that week). I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back a few years.
In 2014, I was still working in restaurants. Specifically, I was working as a dishwasher turned prep cook / plumber / technician / exterminator / painter. I wasn’t really qualified to do any of those things, but the pay was slightly better than other restaurants I had worked in and, more importantly, I got along almost all of my co-workers. That said, I wasn’t exactly what you might call “happy” at that point in my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and I had no idea what steps to take to even figure it out. After every shift, I would have my free staff drink (we were only allowed a single beer, but mine were usually equal to about three — as I said, I got along with the bartenders), and then head over to a nearby bar and take advantage of their more-than-generous Happy Hour ($4 draft beers, 1pm – 7pm every day). What I’m saying is that I used to drink a lot, and more often than not I was sad while doing it. Then Cayetana came along. Which isn’t to say that I stopped drinking because of Cayetana or Nervous Like Me, but I was a lot less sad.
I was vaguely aware of the band when they first released their demo, but I don’t think I actually started listening to them until the “Hot Dad Calendar” single dropped. Even then, I was only sort of into it — I definitely liked what I heard, but it was also a two song single so I wasn’t exactly rushing to buy tickets to their upcoming tour… except then they were announced as the openers on the upcoming The Menzingers tour, so rush to buy tickets is what I did. (The other bands playing that night were Lemuria and PUP. What a line up!) Getting to see them live was an experience. Watching them up on the stage, it was clear that these three people were friends who liked playing music together and they looked like they were having fun getting to do it in front of a crowd. I decided that night that I would be buying their album… except for the fact that it hadn’t come out yet. So I waited. And waited.
Then September came. I remember that my grandmother had just arrived in town for a week-long visit, and my family decided to go out for dinner on the same night as Cayetana’s record release show. Before you worry that I ditched my family dinner just to see a show, know that I did not do that. I did, however, tell my family in advance that we absolutely needed to be on time for dinner so I didn’t have to rush out of the restaurant. Predictably, they were not on time and I ended up rushing out of the restaurant. Eventually I made it there and since I knew more of the songs, I had even more fun than the first time I’d seen them. I still have the poster from that night hanging above my bed to this day.
So let’s get to the album itself! Nervous Like Me lived up to the hype that I had built up for it in my head. In fact, along with Transgender Dysphoria Blues and Soulmate Stuff, it still holds up as one of my favorite albums not only from 2014 but also from this decade. As I mentioned, I was a bit of a sad barfly at the time so there were many nights as I stumbled home that I would pick up on new lines that stood out to me depending on how much I had to drink in relation to how sad I was feeling. On the nights when I was feeling drunkenly defiant, it was “I don’t want to change for the world / I want the world to change for me.” On the more depressing nights, it was “we tell ourselves that we’re alright but it’s the numbness that we feel.” Lonely nights were highlighted by “We’re both prone to misery / but you still get drunk and wanna hang out with me” and the more hopeful ones were accentuated by “Kid you’ll be okay / You’ll get better with age.” There was even a night that went as far as a Facebook post promising that I would buy a digital copy of album for the first five people who responded, but I don’t think I ever actually followed through… mostly because the few people who did respond already owned it.
I’ve seen Cayetana a number of times since the Nervous Like Me release show. There was a time with Worriers and Chumped at Baby’s All Right, where I found a picture of myself on Brooklyn Vegan a few days later. Another time with The Loved Ones on their Keep Your Heart anniversary tour, where I talked to someone who came specifically for Cayetana and then left after they played. Come to think of it, there was a time I saw them at Suburbia where they were the first band and then I left after their set.
I feel like I should mention that I had originally considered picking New Kind of Normal, Cayetana’s second album, as this week’s focus. I was ready to talk about how it was the soundtrack to the brief moment when I was considering moving to Philly after my break-up. And even though I ultimately picked their debut, I think it’s incredible how both of their albums lined up with times in my life where I was feeling lost and directionless, and they’ve both impacted me in major ways because of it. I have a lot of memories attached to this band and their music, and I’m grateful that they decided to pick up instruments and give it a try.
Okay, maybe it is a eulogy.
Philadelphia punk royalty manifest in a sharp & shimmering power trio.
I don’t know what kind of kid I was in high school. Sure, I got straight A’s, but I wasn’t really much of a nerd, studying like Hermione by the light of a fireplace deep into the night. By no means was I a stoner or into any other kind of drug, and the times I got drunk it was no more than any other bored Alabama kid, deep down in the woods shrouded by kudzu vines and pine trees, the flicker of a bonfire glinting off so many truck bumpers. Watching movies like Clueless and Can’t Hardly Wait just made me wish I was something else, something definable, when in reality I was a pretty good mix just like I was, though of course that’s only in hindsight. The pining vocals of Cayetana pulled me back to that wishful thinking, the strength and emotion in Nervous Like Me apparent from the title onward. In “Scott Get The Van, I’m Moving,” singer Augusta Koch’s voice is strained, no less melodic, but weighed down with her desire to get out. Spread thin over each track, her voice calls up those vocals in all-girl indie bands at the turn of the 2000s, pushing out over well-played tracks. Tinged with pop punk, certainly with a riot grrl influence, the majority of the album portrays that emotion in a fairly driving, upbeat way, dancey at the expense of the lyrics. Though the band were self-proclaimed musical beginners when they released the album, their prowess belies that fact, actually pointing more toward maybe a lack of confidence or reticence in owning their music, showing maybe a bit of that wishful thinking on their part in wanting to fully be ‘a band’ or part of a scene when, in reality, they’re pretty great just like they are.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
Heads up, “How many roads must a man walk down?” — we may need to make room in the First Line Hall of Fame for “I came here alone and I plan to leave that way.” Just amazing. Such clarity, like a bell breaking a hazy stillness. The start of Nervous Like Me feels like a spiritual antecedent to “The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit I had a coughing fit,” the brilliant beginning of Lucy Dacus’ sophomore Historian album; both lines cut swiftly and deeply to expose something essential to the other lyrics and songs that follow. That theme of self-sufficiency defines Nervous Like Me opening track “Serious Things Are Stupid” (“I’m at my best when I’m sleeping alone / It’s funny how time stops and starts on its own”), and it pops up throughout the album, often with a complementary, grounding ambivalence. There’s a good long stare in the mirror in “Hot Dad Calendar” that ends with “You’ll get better with age,” and a lonely drive in “South Philly” (“Just me with my dreams in jars / Poor me with my missing parts”). “Madame B” addresses self-reliance head-on, still with shades of indecision. The narrator is told “Girl, you’re better on your own,” but Augusta Koch goes on to ask “Is there strength behind my eyes?” in the chorus. That push-and-pull dynamic — the certainty of solitude in conversation with inward questioning — balances Nervous Like Me beautifully, as does Allegra Anka’s standout bass work. These songs are rendered with force, deliberation, and most notably, a humanity that fosters a real connection with the listener. In that sense, nobody who spends time with Nervous Like Me leaves alone.
To say something like “all-female punk band” seems crass and unnecessarily sexist — particularly in an era when such lines are and should continue to blur. And yet, I feel like there needs to be some way to identify what could almost be considered its own sub-genre on the basis of its musical merits, not the gender of those involved. Whatever Cayetana’s Nervous Like Me is, it’s something very different. In the opening few phrases of “Serious Things Are Stupid,” I thought I had it pegged as just another college indie rock record which is not likely to see any frequency of spin. And then there’s the moment where the wall of guitar noise drops and suddenly vocalist Augusta Koch demands to be taken more seriously. Backed by waves of furious rock drums by Kelly Olsen, we’re treated to a record which begins somewhere between punk rock and the flavour of early vintage-pop-inspired noise of The Dum Dum Girls. A few years ago, The Civets and more recently The Beths seem to also fall into this same fresh category of punk done with panache — a sort of hybrid of indie rock sound style with pop leanings, rolling all over guitars and bass that stagger back and forth between jangly guitar pop and something more aggressive. Most importantly, instead of feeling the need to bury the vocals in drones or fry them into an impossibly deep snarling oblivion a la Brody Dalle, Koch sings out in a delightfully sincere and natural tone which compliments the style of the songs far more. So call this whatever you will, but whatever it is — the world needed more of it. It’s been 5 years since its release and the band also released another follow-up. They’re probably just getting started.
Ending one chapter & starting the next with a literal bang.
I’m trying to keep up on the Philly scene. Palm and Empath are two of my favorite recent bands, both a testament to the ongoing strength and constant renewal of arty post-punk threads stretching back to the ’70s. I’ve also kept my ear to the ground for great female artists and women-led bands, fighting the tide of a music biz that’s still quite male-dominated. But I never came across Cayetana, in name or in sound, and they’re clearing 21,000 followers on Spotify and headlining the Music Hall of Williamsburg in August! I feel like the last decade of new music immersion has just been a slowly dawning realization that I will never know everything that’s going on. But, thanks, Dustin, for putting me on to this fine band, which adds a bit of New Wave gloss to their punk-influenced rock. A peak of the album for me is “Dirty Laundry,” with its Modern English drum riffs and a descending bass line that somehow speaks even more truths than the lyrics, which are damned sharp, too: “To me you are a Laundromat / Oh, I picture you like that / Trying to get clean again / Well, keep spinning, keep spinning, my friend.” Augusta Koch’s vocals are always committed and fierce, but still highly melodic and controlled. Funny that the phrase “lo-fi” comes up so much in their press, because the album is extremely well-produced and Koch’s guitar sounds like a colorful buzzsaw on every song, perfectly meshing with Allegra Anka’s bass and Kelly Olsen’s drums, all of it making the most of the trio format. But in the end, it all comes down to the songs, which were collectively written and somehow manage to take the right twists and turns for maximum satisfaction every damn time. And now I’ve just discovered I’m writing an obituary. According to Wikipedia, the band broke up in 2018, and other articles have the band describing the show in Williamsburg is one of three farewell gigs. We were just getting to be friends, too! At least I have one other album to check out, 2017’s New Kind Of Normal, and I can keep up with Koch, who’s in a new band called Gladie. Anka, also a web developer, was in the band Earth Telephone for a minute and apparently shared some great stuff on Bandcamp about a year ago and then took it down. As for Olsen… well, she went hard on Twitter for a while, but hasn’t posted anything since September 2018. Maybe we’ll hear more from her and Anka after the farewell concerts — I know I’ll be keeping an eye out on all of them while also digging up gems like this NPR concert from 2014. Even if only for a little while, Cayetana burned bright — glad to have caught the tail end of the flame!
Sometimes we listen to things here that I feel like maybe I’m too old to appreciate. Or, not so much too old, but albums that would resonate harder if I listened to them at a different point in my life. In the case of Cayetana’s Nervous Like Me, I wish the album had been released 20 years earlier than it was. Not only would high school aged me have listened to it endlessly, but it would have fit in so neatly between Belly and Lush on the mixtapes I made for myself. I checked four or five times to make sure the release year of 2014 was right, because this sounds like such a ’90s girl-alt-rock group that I refused to believe my eyes or memory. I’m pretty sure these ladies are time travelers from 1994, and nothing you can say will change my mind.
50 Foot Pop Queenie
I knew Nervous Like Me was a record I was gonna like within the first 30 seconds of the throwback alt-rock sound (songwriting and production!). But it wasn’t until “Busy Brain” that I truly connected with the album. It was one of those, “Oh yeah, I know exactly what she’s talking about” moments. I have an overactive mind, one that sometimes I have difficulty turning off. It allows me to be creative, sure, but it can also make sleep a frustrating endeavor. The analytical side certainly gives me the ability to think through things, but that also means I overthink things. My hamster wheel of a mind is probably why I (need to) listen to music while I run or lift. My mind tends to wander if I have silence during those activities, and it tends to wander to thoughts of “Stop this nonsense” or “Why are you here?” or “You could be watching Netflix right now instead”. Music drowns that stuff out and allows me to focus, even if the song is about a constantly-sprinting brain. Now, because I have no background in psychiatry, I can’t say for sure what I’m describing is nervousness or anxiety or ADHD. What it feels like is just my mind (and/or body) nagging me to be lazy and remain in stasis for as long as possible. I guess I just have a lot of thoughts. Maybe it’s a filter problem, I dunno. Did I just overthink all of this? Or did I just overthink about overthinking? I’ll have to think on that.
Finding appeal in other nervous listeners, Cayetana stands out from their contemporaries with realistic emotional pull.
They got me. They got me from the very first record. You know how certain songs just so happen to call out your exact sensibilities in a given situation? Or all situations? Well, that’s what happened to me while listening to “Serious Things Are Stupid.” The scenario she lays out is pretty much how I approach one hindered percent of social events: “I came here alone and I plan to leave that way.” But then what happens when you actually meet someone that you might want to leave with? There’s an ensuing push-pull that makes for a miserable way to live, and excellent songwriting: “And we’re both prone to misery / But you still get drunk and wanna hang out with me / And I’m at my best when I’m sleeping alone.” I cannot stress how ouch that last line made my ears perk up, because it’s one thousand percent true for me. I find it extremely difficult to sleep properly with someone else in the bed with me. I snore like a demon. I hate holding in farts. I sometimes drool, and I inhabit the middle of the mattress, not one side in particular. And then there’s the inevitable self-sabotage in thinking that the other person feels the same way you do, and doesn’t want to pursue anything further either: “You won’t change your ways / You won’t change your ways” is the final refrain. And what brings is all full circle is the title of the record “Serious Things Are Stupid” — a childish way to frame the potential for interacting with anyone on an intimate or meaningful level. This record cut me right down to size, and opened my eyes, and my mind for the rest of the album that followed.
That wall of distorted guitars that comes in on “Serious Things Are Stupid” hits like a train out of nowhere. That’s one way to grab your listener’s attention. For a long time, I’ve argued that the second song on an album is the most important one, because it’s usually where I, personally, decide if I’m going to take the time to listen to the whole thing or not. I will say though, it never hurts to have a killer opener. In fact, I usually just overlook the importance of having a solid first track, because honestly, of course the first song on your album is one of, if not the most, important. Having never heard of Cayetana, the heavier, distorted sound was a pleasant surprise. The music almost reminds me of Built To Spill, especially the vocals. I’ve been listening to a lot of alternative rock and indie as of late — think, Jeff Buckley, Built To Spill, Drugdealer, et cetera — so this record comes at an appropriate time for me. I love those artists’ approach towards music — the focus on artistic expression over an adherence to expectation or standards. The reason albums like this one probably stay off your radar (oh yes, I did) is because they refuse to play by the industry rules that allow for mainstream fame and “success.” Regardless, the music doesn’t suffer as a result of this subversion, and so I take no issue with the aesthetic. In fact, at the end of my own career, I’d much rather have a few albums under my belt as good as this one and my artistic freedom than a bunch of Spotify plays and a list of everybody’s expectations to have to check off.
Dynamic and intimate, the reach of Cayetana is noticeable from the first moment. The first lyric, the first guitar strum, the first chord change. Hell, even the title of their first record, Nervous Like Me, casts its appeal over a welcoming audience, curious to hear what brand of “nervous” they bring to the table. That brand is one that’s split between the literal and figurative, joining phrases like “Bring me back to those good days / I was fine with my old ways” and “And the prisoners still stay / Long after the guards went away” into the same coherent thought being relayed overtop of energizing tones. And doing so grounds the message of their music in the reality of listeners. On “Animal,” verses drip in and out of metaphors hammering home each part of the story in their own crucial way. “And I watched you prey / And I watched you hunt / And I watched you gather ’til you got what you want” points to an evolution of sorts beyond the titular concept, but one very much rooted in something unacceptable. Later, as the singer washes freckles that “don’t fade away,” we get the human existence laid bare for us to see: “And I watch you suffer / it’s the human way.” Like most of their brilliant lines, it hits fast and hard, preceding the chorus of “You got me feeling like an animal” which begs the question: which existence is worse? Both? Most artists weave in and out of metaphors, but Cayetana does so in an intimate, grounded sense. It feels like way a friendly stranger might relate their life story over drinks as a bar approaches last call. There’s no lofty literary license at play while they speak, but hyperbole and metonymies show up on occasion to accentuate their point and emotion. In doing so, you understand everything about them, and also feel everything they’ve been through. It all pours out seamlessly, something the band highlights very shrewdly in the record, like when the tone drops out of “Mountain Kids” and then rings in the following song “Madame B,” or in the way Augusta Koch finds subtle ways to alter her tone and inflection from song to song, keeping the narration similar yet still variable. If you’re in for a long story, you want to hear how it all connects, and Cayetana does so beautifully here, something I’ve really come to realize, appreciate, and admire with this re-visit, one that’s come in the lead-up to the band’s farewell shows this summer. And as the band reaches its end, it’s nice to look back at the beginning here, particularly that stellar opening track “Serious Things Are Stupid.” Armed with an invigorating chorus and deeply stirring guitar bridge, it, along with most of the record, feels like a well-deserved victory lap the band took before ever running a race, making the triumph of this record, and their bright time together, a foregone conclusion.
Stormy Blue by Choke Up
Chosen By Guest Contributor Sal Ellington (of Rebuilder)