Campus musicians explore isolation, vulnerability, nostalgia

Courtesy of Alouette Batteau.

“Extra Vacation Days” — Alouette Batteau 

This past summer was a long one—and not in the romantic “Endless Summer” kind of way. Uncomfortably long. Stagnantly long. 

Alouette Batteau ’23 found herself catapulted back into her hometown of Shelby Falls, MA in early March; unprepared and under-packed, she returned to a closet of sports shorts and old high school jerseys. Luckily, also waiting for her was a small room, perfectly carved for music-making. 

It was there she recorded and produced her first solo EP, “Extra Vacation Days,” which paints a vivid portrait of life in quarantine: the distance, new habits, pining for others. 

The opening single “Isolationist” is clever and effervescent. Batteau shares with listeners her musings on the mundane. Her love for air conditioning and boxed wine is professed over sweet and tremulous guitars. “Honestly, I’m sick of rooms and blurry screens/ I’ve worn out all the novelty,” she admits. Speaking for all students frustrated by Zoom fatigue, Batteau is here to empathize. 

Another standout track, “Half Assed Poetry,” houses a lyric that inspired the project’s name: “Love to feel the post party haze/ and extra vacation days.” Surprisingly, however, this song was written pre-quarantine, giving it clairvoyant relevance.

“I had played the song a couple of times on campus last semester, then took it back home to my three-piece band Kalliope Jones,” Batteau said, as we talked about her process while sitting under a tree on the residential quad. “I guess it was quarantine that afforded me the time to create my own arrangement for the song and record it myself. I didn’t even need to change the lyrics, somehow it just perfectly fit into the quarantine theme.”

Batteau’s first solo venture also showcases her skills as a formidable multi-instrumentalist, reliably proficient in each instrument she picks up. Rich guitar tones weave through inventive song structures, offering unexpected interludes and powerful builds between ear-catching hooks.

“It was cool to have full artistic control,” Batteau said. “With Kalliope Jones, the arrangements were always just drums, bass guitar and vocals, so I enjoyed getting to arrange horn sections and trying weird synth sounds out on my own.”

Listening to Batteau take on a stronger production role leaves me anxiously anticipating the release of her first solo record, “Turn Me Honest.” Until then, “Extra Vacation Days” leaves amply rich soundscapes and witty lyrics to explore. Poignant poetry and whimsical arrangements invite listeners to reflect on their own experiences of isolation. 

Courtesy of Ezra Caspi.

“Recent Nostalgia” — Ezra Caspi 

Once quarantine hit, Ezra Caspi ’23 returned to his seaside home in Holmdel, NJ. He was alone in some sense of the word, but with ample time to comb through his favorite late ’60s era rock records, he never felt completely solitary. 

Caspi wears the influence of those timeless records on his sleeve in his latest album, “Recent Nostalgia.” Boasting meticulous harmonies and air-tight songwriting, the record makes for pleasant, relaxed listening. Guitar in hand, Caspi effortlessly floats across different genres, determined to pay homage to his heroes while also sharing his own stories. 

The airy, surf-rock revival “Mice in the Sound Hole” is an immediate standout due to its infectious, sticky hook and bright guitar leads. The lyrics’ direct reference to the Beach Boys—“You say you like The Beach Boys, and my long hair, turn my life into an August love affair”—is a clever nod to one of Ezra’s key influences. 

“When I was a kid, the Beach Boys played constantly. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were equally huge,” Caspi told me while sitting on a bench outside of Noyes, next to that tent selling posters. “Hearing all of those harmonies, I just grew to love that sound. I feel like that style of harmony was really left in the ’60s and ’70s. Why? Why are we not doing that anymore? I suppose that’s why I was so intent on reviving that sound.”

Thus, Caspi’s rich, retro harmonies are the centerpiece of the album. Three and sometimes four-part harmonies soar over acoustic guitars and playful synths, capturing the elusive charm of rock ’n’ roll’s golden age.

“Sad at Night,” with its driving beat and bright guitars, is enough to plunge any McCartney fan into full-blown Beatlemania. “My initial intention wasn’t to go for a Beatles sound, but once I got to the verses, the harmonies came to follow,” Caspi said. “It just felt right. The Beatles knew what they were doing, so why not try to learn from the best?”

Caspi clearly wrote and recorded each song with care. Caspi is in many ways grateful for the COVID lockdowns, as it gave him boundless time to perfect the record.

“I think [quarantine] gave me a chance to be precise and really thoughtful about production in a way that I never had an opportunity to do before,” he reflected. “There is no way I would be as happy with the record if it wasn’t for all the spare time I had on my hands.”

Lyrically, “Recent Nostalgia confronts loss: of loved ones, of relationships, of time. The album’s title beautifully articulates a sentiment shared by anyone longing for the past, no matter how distant. 

“When you think of nostalgia, normally you think of things way in the past, like childhood. But there’s this weird phenomenon, especially in these bizarre times, where I find myself missing times from not so long ago at all, like a couple months ago when things were ‘normal,’ because everything changed so fast,” Caspi mused. “Sometimes it’s even hard to discern what normal is anymore.”

No matter what a ‘new normal’ delivers, Caspi is determined to roll with the punches.

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