There’s something pretty badass about releasing a break-up album on Valentine’s Day.
Poppies’ self-released debut album, Bed Music, is one of the better things that happened this month. Capping in at just seven short songs, it’s a thoughtful bedroom-pop record that showcases vocalist/guitarist May Sembera and vocalist/guitarist/bassist Ian Langehough’s hushed, heartbroken songwriting.
Recorded by Hunter Davidson and mixed by Jonny Schenke, Bed Music builds on the NY-based indie rock trio’s 2017 EP, Good, which is an affectionate portrait of adolescence. Bed Music is similarly understated, but more melancholic and reflective. With Bed Music, Sembera, Langehough, and drummer Ajax Abernathy—along with vocal contributors Anna McClellan and Steven Whitely—have allowed for more moments of quiet, resulting in an album that evokes the intimate, lo-fi tracks of early Frankie Cosmos, CBMC, or Palehound.
“It feels like we have come into our own in this one,” Sembera and Langehough told AdHoc via email. “But also, it’s a break-up album.” Read AdHoc’s track-by-track breakdown of Bed Music below, and catch Poppies at Alphaville on April 25 with support from Operator Band Music and Dig Nitty.
From its first ethereal high note to its first self-delusion (“Floss my teeth / brush my tongue / All that you want / I’ll become”), this song sets the tone for the record. It’s sad and self-aware, but still has a sense of humor. “Good and plenty / shy and horny / Is there anyone / out there for me?” Just when the song feels like it starts to build, it stops abruptly at 2:00. Sometimes waves don’t crest.
The most energetic track on the record, “Dum Dum” has a steady, driving bassline and an irresistible hook that arrives about 15 seconds in. The song sounds like it could have been written and performed by Courtney Barnett, as Sembera delivers wry lyrics (“I sense something’s wrong / bite my tongue / chew it into pieces”) with confidence and charm.
In “The Wedge,” Sembera and Langehough each voice one side of a couples’ grievances, making this song a casual masterpiece of passive aggression. Sembera’s line, “You hear what you want but you don’t hear me,” is the most decipherable and charged. Accusations pile up. A relationship hasn’t fallen apart—it’s falling apart, but gently.
If “The Wedge” is about all the ways we project blame outward, “Politician” takes a step back and asks, “Could some of this have been my fault?” The answer, unsurprisingly, is yes. Sembera opens with, “It’s not you / It’s just my indecision.” Energy starts to build when Sembera’s raspy vocals balloon over a late guitar hook, but this energy is ultimately reeled in, quieted, restrained. Eventually, vocals fade altogether, and we’re left with a breathy outro that feels like a sigh.
Sembera and Langehough’s vocals dip in and out of this bright, delicate track. Here, Langehough wins the award for the most simple, stinging lyric: “The things / I meant to say / come out / a different way.” Imagine an entire song built around this sentiment, and you have “Funny Games.” The instrumentals are light and soft, until they cut out right as May sings, “When I cut / I cut clean.” Consider me cut.
Pink Hum Punch Out
To borrow Sembera and Langehough’s syntax: When the melancholy hits, it hits hard. “Pink Hum Punch Out” is the longest track on the record, at 3:33. It’s slow-burning and spare and pensive. Other than eerie humming, vocals don’t come in until a little past 2:00. They’re sung with a beautiful, haunting evenness: “I’m not happy / and you’re not ever / Take whatever.”
In “Anything,” somber finger-plucked guitar gives way to hovering vocals that barely register above a whisper. Sembera repeats the refrain, “I’d do anything,” stretching out the last, titular word with an ethereal vibrato that hints at her desperation and vulnerability. Anyone who’s ever said (or thought about saying) those words in the last moments of a crumbling relationship should be familiar with the extremely misguided, extremely human impulse to do so. Bed Music, as a whole, is a tender, winning album crafted from this tender, losing place. </3
2/8 NYC @ Pianos *
2/9 Asbury Park, NJ @ House of Independents ^
2/10 Asbury Park, NJ @ House of Independents ^
2/11 Asbury Park, NJ @ House of Independents ^
4/6 Washington, DC @ Comet Ping Pong #
* with Stuck In the Sound, Pom Pom Squad, Bones Garage, SHÄDE, Kings Of The Beach, Walrus, and Orions Belte
^ supporting Pinegrove
# with support from Maneka and Mister Golbin