Written between March 2020 and 2021, the album from the Alaskan-born, Brooklyn-based artist is part confessional, part personal pep talk—a set of songs documenting the emotional rollercoaster of living in a new, pandemic-ridden city with a mix of wit, sweet sadness and cheerful resignation
The ultimate gift and perhaps goal of an artist, no matter the medium, is commenting on the human condition in a hyper-personal way. Combining the unique and the universal—drawing on individual influences, styles, experiences and ideas to express those feelings that are familiar to us all.
That’s why we find meaning in memoir. Even if if the events are original and the circumstances specific, the emotions being expressed and reactions inspired are relatable. They resonate.
On top of that, people are complicated, life is complex. This world isn’t one-dimensional and there’s no one emoji to rule them all. It’s why we often cry at weddings and sometimes laugh at funerals; it’s why falling in love feels incredible and also kinda makes you want to throw up.
Art that hits the hardest recognizes the power of perspective and revels in these contradictions, painting a big picture with small, one-of-a-kind strokes and weaving together different feelings to create something that hits that small, sensitive, sweet spot inside us all.
One musician who recently struck me as nailing this is Jeremiah Brunnhoelzl (aka Arlo Indigo), who with his new album, All We Can Do Is Nothing—written in the height of the pandemic, in the Alaskan artist’s then-new home of NYC)—tackles the uncertainty, absurdity and painful parts of life with clever and memorable metaphors and a tone that combines wit, sweet sadness and a kind of cheerful resignation. It feels bittersweet… like a rueful smile with a tiny shrug… and when listening to the album, it’s hard to tell whether the artist considers the cup of life to be half-full or half-empty. It’s just there… so you might as well drink from it.
Jeremiah released All We Can Do Is Nothing on July 29th, and shortly following the release, he sent me over the following thoughts on the album:
“I pretty much treat writing an album like I would if I was an author writing a book. It’s supposed to be a decently long process that took place over whatever amount of time and by the end it’s supposed to capture who you were and what you felt for that period of time and then you package it up and send it out into the world.
All We Can Do Is Nothing is that for me. Most of the tunes were written between March 2020 through March 2021, so, if you really want to know how I feel about the world crumbling down around us as I try and survive in a city that still feels kind of alien to me it’s all in the songs and it’s all pretty obvious.”
As is the case with these track-by-track features, the artist also sent over intel on the album’s eleven songs, which include a personal pep-talk, a Futurama reference, a “polite Pixies” track and one that might condemn him to “dad rock jail.”
All We Can Do Is Nothing—track by track
“Watch it end today”
“This one is kinda fun for me because it was the first demo on a ‘20 song challenge’ day I did in March 2020 and I actually named it ‘You’re not Mac Demarco’ on my playlist and almost scrapped it, but, finished it and recorded it at the behest of some friends and I’m happy to say that I did.
By the way, ‘Let’s grab a six pack and watch it end today’ is totally a reference to an episode of Futurama where they time travel so far into the future (or was it the past?) that the universe itself eventually ends.”
“This song is definitely a conversation with myself if that wasn’t already obvious. Don’t worry everyone, I wasn’t writing a pep talk, self-help anthem because I have it all figured out. I wrote it because I’m a wreck.”
“Dreams Don’t Die”
This was a tune that kind of fell out of me in one evening. I like songs that are still good with one chord progression throughout so I ran with that but I surely have never written four full verses that I like, with few edits, in one sitting. But you know, it’s a song about the strangeness of how open-ended participating in certain life events is and hurtling into adulthood with a very strong case of imposter syndrome, so, maybe there’s just a lot to talk about.
“All We Can Do Is Nothing”
“I’m proud of myself for this one because this title alone has Michael Stipe of REM levels of melancholy. This was another one of the 20 song challenge demo songs from March 2020 and when I say ‘I wish it was the fourth of July’ in the first verse, that pretty much means we all thought the pandemic was going to ‘figure itself out’ by the summer back then.”
“Don’t Be Sad”
“This is another song that feels like it kind of fell out. The one plus side of the lockdown was it made it easy to sit down and finish a song in one sitting. I feel like this came out when I was on a Daniel Johnston kick but then again, lots of songs are in G so who knows.”
“I call this one my ‘polite Pixies’ track. It’s a tune about the reality of how hard adult friendships are to maintain and what you really find out about people once you’ve had some time to get to know them. Emotional tourism is a real thing everywhere, but if you combine that with the transient tendency of plenty of New York creatives it’s a wild ride.”
“Another of the twenty song challenge songs, this is simply a three chord song about who decides to stick around during your story and expectation management during the long march of life.”
“This is a song about how too much of a good thing can make you complacent. I saw an artist once say during a monologue between songs ‘if you chill too hard, you freeze’ once and I don’t think that ever left me.”
“The Only One”
“This is a song that could possibly be relatable for anyone who’s been in a relationship where it feels close but not quite right and you have to make the decision whether or not you’re going to be truthful and hurt the person or just keep up appearances, dreading the inevitable.”
“The Darkest Hymn”
“It’s not cute, but, this is a song about alcoholism; the ‘master’ being the drink. It’s got a real lonely feeling to it and it reminds me of an overnight drive through the southwest where I got to see the sunrise in the desert and the whole scene looked like we were on a different planet.”
“This was the first song I wrote after I moved to New York and it might be nerdy but i do find it to spiritually be my ‘Dancing In The Dark’ and I’m totally okay with that, ‘dad rock jail’ be damned.”
Your next opportunity to catch Arlo Indigo live is Tuesday 9/13 at the fifth edition of STRONG LITTLE SONGS—a living-room show I co-produce with the artist, which this month will be raising money for Planned Parenthood. The show takes place at BdBK HQ (aka my apartment and is donation-based and BYOB. Doors at 7; DM @bandsdobk or email at bandsdobk [@] gmail for address.
We’d love to see you, and trust me—you’d love to hear him.
Feature image provided by the artist.