The debut album from POC-led slowcore project Mothlights, Walking The World With A Leaky Umbrella (Strawberry Moon Records), is both an artistic feat of escapism and a statement of political, cultural, and societal defiance. The album came to be during an outpouring of fevered creativity in downtown Washington DC amidst the George Floyd uprisings, the COVID lockdown, and the events of the January 6th Insurrection. The 15-song record confronts political themes of decolonization, reculturation, antifascism and climate anxiety alongside personal themes of melancholy, remembrance, and mental health struggles.
Mothlights’ primary singer songwriter, Rishi Gupta, has been in and out of punk and post hardcore groups since his early teens, and began releasing folk music under the name Kindred Wings in 2014. Mothlights represents a fresh artistic continuum for Rishi. It draws on the influences of slowcore artists like Low, Bluetile Lounge, and Carissa’s Wierd; singer-songwriters like Jackson C Frank, Julien Baker, and Elliott Smith; and instrumentalists such as John Fahey, Tashi Dorji, Marisa Anderson, and Leo Kottke. In addition, Rishi sought inspiration from traditional Bengali folk music heritage.
The songs on Walking The World With A Leaky Umbrella express depression and pain lyrically and compositionally. The tracks feature carefully sculpted soundscapes crafted from layers of noise and found sound; lyrical vocabulary and forms from other languages such as Russian, Yiddish and Sanskrit; and a mosaic of seemingly disparate influence such as blues, ragtime, folk, raga, psychedelia, slowcore, rock, jazz, and noise. Here, aesthetics become weaponized.
Today Glide is offering an exclusive premiere of the standout track “Thermidor,” a slowly percolating work of slowcore that balances hushed and intimate vocals, dreamy harmonies, and sparsely simple guitar playing to make for a song that captures a certain moment of time. This moment, for Rishi Gupta, was one that transpired into a musical and lyrical tone that feels melancholy yet reflective. He captures a sense of closeness and vulnerability, letting the lo-fi recording enhance the music to feel like it was played by candlelight.
Rishi Gupta describes the inspiration and process behind the song:
In the wee small hours of a polar vortex night in West Philly in Feb of 2019, I woke up to the sickening crack of my favorite Martin acoustic, dead and swinging from its wall hanger. The heat differential from the inside of the apartment to the subzero windy outside was too stressful on the wood. This was the last straw for me that week. After a frustratingly bad response from the city to the crisis, my general directionlessness and lots of personal anguish that seems so much bigger when it’s late and cold and the air is heavy, I could not have felt more bereft. “Thermidor” came out then as I sat there playing the remains of my guitar, something sad, tired, slowly rocking and a little pathetic. I wanted the song to be as immobilized-feeling as that one Sarah Kane play called Blasted where the back half of it takes place in a hotel room destroyed by a mortar. Trying to write when you’re exhausted in the middle of the night is a little like dreaming, you accidentally end up processing things you encountered while awake. The defeat of the French Revolution from the book I was reading, bits and pieces of a folk song called “Jubilee” and the memory of some church I once visited got scribbled down and recorded. I am hazy on the details of why for any of it. The album version is the recording from that night, with minimal tampering.
I went down a rabbit hole during recording of this album thinking about what the best medium to listen to each song would be and I landed on some old, badly scratched up G+ to VG vinyl from some thrift store bin for Thermidor. It feels right with the warping and the scratches and the dust over the whole recording. After everything over the past couple of years, I feel haunted by my 22 year old self from that night. Sometimes I still hear his footsteps around the house, the creaking broken guitar in his hands, his feeling of reading Tolstaya and that one Catherine Nixey book for the first time, all of his small little problems blowing around in the cold. There are a bunch of little instruments in the background including a lovely saxophone part played by Sarah Hughes that I wanted to sound like life going on, things happening outside that my past self could just step out to see while he had the chance. I tried to make the recording reflect the walking haunted houses of personal and global history we all become in one swaying little hug at the end of the record, for every version of me, for the Jacobins in their cells at the end, and just for feeling vanquished and small. I hope it can bring a little warmth on a cold night.