Brooklyn’s Journalism have taken a thoughtful approach to making rock music since their formation in 2012, one that’s as intellectual as it is based in feeling. Following the 2014 release of their dreamy post-punk debut 1324, the four-piece are set to release their first full-length, which builds on the EP’s lushness and dynamism while concentrating critically on a set of observations that hit close to home.
Frontman Kegan Zema has intimated that on the group’s crowded home turf of Bushwick, trying to make it—or merely to exist—as a person making music can feel overwhelming and futile at times. On Faces, Journalism have turned their attention to the pertinent topic of just playing a band in a scene where countless other artists are vying for the same space, a privilege that can be invigorating but also endlessly frustrating. For all its conceptual depth, the record’s not lacking in immediacy, either—its reverb-soaked hooks and energetic basslines press forth with a rare fervor. The band plays off the anxiety in Zema’s cool, gritty vocal melodies with fierce instrumental interludes highlighting bright twinned guitars, which on some tracks recall Let’s Active as much as they do Wild Nothing. In spite of the existential frustrations tied to being surrounded by so many contending faces, Journalism are clearly onto something, with a record that has the potential to resonate deeply.
Faces is available for pre-order now and due out March 4 on Dead Stare Records, with a release show at the Silent Barn alongside Stove, Bueno, and Psychic Selves. You can stream the album in full below, and scroll down for a conversation with Journalism.
What’s the significance of the album’s title?
The idea of various “faces” occurs several times throughout the album and binds together many of the tracks. In some instances, the faces are the recurring cast of characters in the local music scene. The idea of seeing the same people out all the time and slowly becoming acquainted with more and more of them went into many of these songs. Or for instance, on “Time Being” the narrator is “forgetting the names of my friends” despite recognizing their faces.
At other times, the faces are obscured or indistinct. All throughout “Faces II”, the narrator’s face is unrecognizable. And the narrator on “Watching and Waiting” seems to feel their music and their actual appearance are indistinguishable amongst the similar bands and people occupying the scene. “Everywhere I Look” examines the strangeness and familiarity of all the faces we see.
We tried to make the artwork reflect that, featuring indecipherable layering of these blank and sort of androgynous faces. Living in New York especially we see so many faces day in and day out that the ones we hold dear become even more important.
Much of the album laments the struggle of being a young artist in a culture that’s oversaturated with people like yourself—“You might die young before you make it,” you sing on the final track. Is there any strain of hope on the record?
I’m not sure that “lament” is the correct word because I don’t feel that the overarching theme is one of hopelessness or sorrow. There are certain anxieties discussed and struggles that are explored, but the reality of the situation is that we are privileged to be in a position to pursue these endeavors. On a lot of these tracks, the narrator is grappling with these false hopes and settling for realistic expectations. It’s not so much of resignation as it is a recalibration and maturation.
For me, the hope lies in being able to do this every day — to be lucky and dedicated enough to create and share and be part of a community. Sure, “you might die young before you make it,” but who cares? (And what does that even mean?) There’s a ton of dread on here like, “Aghhh no one wants to listen to my shitty band!” but the whole point is that really it doesn’t fucking matter.
Your bio mentions exploring what it means to make guitar rock in 2016. Do you think guitar rock has fundamentally changed?
I grew up on the myth of rock and roll and much of my life has been dispelling those notions in favor of reality. My life is much less cocaine and groupies and a lot more Tecates and emails. I think we are well past the point where anyone writing and performing guitar music or “rock” in it’s most traditional sense has any hope of shifting the cultural landscape on a truly widespread scale. If you want me to get all music-writery on you, Nirvana killed it and The Strokes put the nails in the coffin. It’s done. Just like there probably isn’t going to be another Miles Davis, or Beethoven or whatever.
… but to be honest, this is great news. Hopefully more of the rockist, white male ideologies will start to go extinct as well. (Let’s still acknowledge that Dylan was a genius but understand that Kanye is the Dylan of our time.) Basically, no one has to give a shit about rock music any more on a large scale and yet bands are still doing their thing and that’s great too. Of course guitar rock has changed fundamentally over the past 50-plus years because everything has. Change is what keeps this whole thing moving forward. We discuss this idea on the record by hopefully giving a snapshot of what it is like to make music like this now—or at least our personal experience. We’re fully aware we aren’t reinventing the wheel here. But don’t get me wrong, there are loads of great bands out there doing interesting things and pushing boundaries within the world of guitar-centric music, many of whom are our peers, friends, and contemporaries. We acknowledge we’re working with a played-out medium but honestly hope we can make it feel the slightest bit fresh by adding our unique energy and perspective.
You seem to be drawing a lot on classic jangle and power pop. Any notable contemporary influences, people you’re surrounded by or have played with?
I think when we were first starting out a few years ago there was this element of like, “Okay, what types of music are happening here now?” That formed a foundation and then we kind of worked within that general framework to craft our sound. There are definitely elements of these post-shoegaze bands that were popular back then, but over time, those kinds of textures gave way to our own tendencies. We wanted to explore krauty rhythms and began to draw more heavily from the 90s and 00s rock bands that we grew up with.
I’m also at shows 3 or 4 nights a week between working sound, playing and seeing friends, so I’m absorbing other people’s music and vibes constantly. Whether or not you feel a strong connection to every performer you see, they all get the wheels turning in your head and help you hone in on your own creative vision and goals as a songwriter.
We’ve played with Honduras a bunch and I’m always so blown away by how Pat lets all of the energy flow through him on stage. We are super stoked to be playing our release with Stove and Bueno, both of whom are bands I felt a strong connection to after seeing them play multiple times.