On his intentionally unpredictable debut album, BK artist Mitchell Vinokur examines the impact of our choices and changes, singing of dancing dead people, dropping in a cameo by grandma and painting a picture of a way-too-utopian world where you gotta feel low to get a high
While I like a ton of artists, and I’m def a big, big fan of a lot of bands, every once in a while I stumble upon a project that I become immediately obsessed with—where I experience a sort of gut-level love, an instant, instinctual affection and a desire to like, idk, manage them or marry them or adopt them or attempt some weird combination of all three. (DON’T ASK.)
When Mitchell Vinokur, the one human behind Brooklyn indie/psych project Two-Man Giant Squid, sent over his debut album, I felt very much the third way, and when the Spotify link went live this week and I sent it to several people (namely music-loving pals + a few art-appreciating dudes I knew from dating apps) saying “MY NEW OBSESSION,” my friend Nick agreed with my evaluation, replying “i like these squids” and then, a few minutes later, “oh man, still listening, this is SUCH a sam band.”
Now, I’m not sure what telltale combination of defining characteristics makes a band a “sam band”—when you know, you know?!—but given Mitchell’s description of his artistic intention, perhaps a lack of clarity on that front is rather fitting. According to the artist, his songwriting strategy was mostly focused on taking the traditional and then turning it on its head, drawing from different genres, harnessing the basics in unconventional ways and doing his best to defy listeners’ expectations by inserting elements of unpredictability at (almost) every turn.
“On previous recordings, I was so obsessed with coming up with the most complex riffs and the most never-before-used melodies that I forgot how good it can feel to write emotional songs backed by basic chord structures,” he told me over email. “My goal for Abyssal Gigantism was to use simpler concepts but make sure they never get too stale or stationary. The attempt became to write music where you wouldn’t be able to predict what’s going to happen next. While there are plenty instances of traditional songwriting in this LP, more often than not each section makes a conscious effort to not take the most logical next step, whatever that may be.”
So maybe that’s how I’d describe my musical tastes: I’m attracted to the unorthodox, a sucker for surprises. Either way, this record is one of the sickest things to land into my inbox in a hot minute, and I couldn’t be more hyped to officially intro it to the (Brooklyn) world now.
From Two-Man Giant Squid, this is Abyssal Gigantism.
Along with notes on his process, Mitch also sent over some insight on the overarching themes of his album—one that essentially serves as a series of questions, exploring contradictory thoughts and feelings while examining the consequences of our choices and changes and their undeniable impact on our relationships with places and people.
“So another indie rock album about feeling sad? Well, kinda. The narrative explores themes of apathy, jadedness, and someone who wants to break out of their cynicism and live the ‘blissfully unaware’ life of everyone around them. What is our willingness (or lack thereof) to actually become those happier plastic-y people? Is it even good to change in this way? And if we do, who is it really for? I think there is always some jealousy at play with my own feelings of apathy. Jealous of people who can just go see a Marvel movie, enjoy it, and not feel the need to trash it just because they saw a Terrence Malick film the week before. It explores both sides of that coin.”
And finally, the artist offered a track-by-track breakdown of the seven-song record, on which he sings of bridges, bowling shoes and dancing dead people, incorporates an “apathetic’s anthem” then drops in his grandmother’s borscht recipe, and paints a picture of a way-too-utopian world where you gotta feel low to get a high.
Abyssal Gigantism —TRACK BY TRACK:
1. “Don’t Make Your Presence Known“
“Sometimes it’s nice to just sit with someone and know they’re there. No talking or acknowledging, just that primal feeling of both being in each other’s company. I liked the idea of saying this in a song because it almost sounds like an insult, like “hey, don’t make your presence known,” but really it’s endearing. It’s saying, your presence is all I need, now leave me alone! The apathetic’s anthem.”
2. “First (And Last) Time in Your Nightclub“
“Six minutes, I know.. but everyones allowed one ‘November Rain’ on their debut LP. It’s about becoming that jaded person a little too much that you cease to really have fun or enjoy things, like clubs. We’re all just ‘watching dead people dance out on the west coast’ and secretly want to be like them. Naturally, it’s also the most club-y track on the record.”
3. “The Worm“
“Sometimes we get so stuck in our own ways that it feels like the only way to change is to completely re-wire ourselves. And if we leave our old selves behind, are we doing a disservice to the people who liked us just the way we were?”
4. “Abyssal Gigantism“
“Yes, that is my grandmother telling me her Borscht recipe in the intro…
Here’s my stab at surf-rock that asks, do our peers really want to see us succeed? Its a bit tongue-in-cheek, saying if you’re this no-luck-down-in-the-dumps guy who all of a sudden great things started happening to, wouldn’t your response to the world be like ‘Hey I’m getting mine now, if you don’t like it then fuck you!’ Plus I just liked the way the surf-rock vibes clashed with an abrasive line like ‘I would rather see you die.'”
5. “Bowling Shoes“
“If the date is going well, isn’t it funny that you can feel cool to someone while wearing bowling shoes. I mean those things look so ridiculous! Writing a punk song about it? That’s probably not as cool… but who’s to say. I made a point to alternate between yelling ‘people will change’ and ‘some people will change.’ I think at this point the idea of change might still not be a good thing. That’s what happy people do right? They bowl?”
6. “Maryland, Virginia“
“This was the first song written for the record. I wanted to keep it very quiet and acoustic but throwing it into fuzzy chaos was too enticing in the end. I think we can feel slighted by the places we’ve lived in over our lifetime just as much as the people. Even if sometimes they go hand in hand. I like the idea that the ‘bridges’ that used to get us to these places now separate us from them. I love the bass that Brian Speaker added on this one too.”
7. “Junkies of Despair“
“I had a bell synth on my keyboard that I liked playing around with over a drum-pad beat. One day it turned into this Spoon-like intro that I kept building around. This one takes a lot of different turns. Trumpets, and turns. But ultimately it ends the album on a satirical note asking, what if stripping away everyone’s despair leads us to a creepy utopian world where we are so bored of being happy all the time that sadness becomes a ‘fix’ that people seek.”
Two-Man Giant Squid doesn’t have any performances on the book yet (TRUST ME—I ASKED), but in the meantime, you can listen to the record now and follow the project for updates.
And whenever a show does happen, you better believe I’ll be there. Two-Man Squid is a ~sam band~ after all. And while I still don’t know exactly what that means, you better believe I’m ridiculously stoked on it.
Feature image provided by the artist.