The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Kate Bollinger, and When Bedroom Pop Makes it Out of the Four Walls

On October 3rd, during a leisurely poised and easy-going Tuesday, Kate Bollinger launched her show for the Track Zero series alongside fellow acts 24thankyou and Sam Burton at Gabe’s. Doors opened within the hour of 7:30 pm, with 24thankyou commencing the show at 8:30 pm as the first act to kick off the night. 

Kate Bollinger. Image via Cat Dooley

A five-piece assemblage local to the Iowa City area, 24thankyou introduced spacey, ambient forces of rhythmic pattern, with stylish pulses of abrasion and sharply-honed reverb. The phonics swapped in alternation between Emma Parker and Ethan Traugh. Emma with mellifluous, canorous vocals, whereas Ethan with potent, zappy expanses of aria, filtered with sound plug-ins that robotize the voice, sparked the perfect formula for something natural and mechanized, wedding the human to the computer.

Midway through the set with the worst luck, Ethan’s guitar string had broken. While resolving the issue, Emma had shared the contents of her prolific sound board, which was entertaining to say the least. Eventually through the kindness of Sam Burton, Ethan returned with a borrowed guitar. Pushing through, as the newly-acquired guitar saved the show, the musical unit proceeded to set forth their array of vividly radiant sound. A flashing amplification that broadly echoes through Gabe’s spellbound hall. 24thankyou unifies the realm of hyperpop to shoegaze, inventing a hybrid never much explored and experimented with.

Innovative and originally DIY, the collaboration and communication that transpires amongst Muhlena, Wilkins, Griffin, and the other members of 24thankyou, is one that produces a resonance comparable to an abstract painting. Conceptual, impressionistic, and plunging against the boundary of defined compartments, 24thankyou generates a sonority fueled by static buzz and unchartered refinement. Poignant with its rough scratches here and there, 24thankyou is brusquely fitful with a cause. It’s to channel what is broken glass into a glowing cathedral. Such tracks from their latest album release entitled Everything I Was, Burning Slow such as “Gnawed” and “i wash it out” garner a harshly vigorous intensity that fills the ear with rich and teeming electricity.

Lyrically, the songs spoke of metamorphosis, and how in changing time, the self veers toward a subconscious evolution. Although there were some instances of slippery slopes when it had come to tuning and coordination, the group, which seems to pose chemistry-like communication, pulled off their attempts of striking the room with dynamically passionate strains of energy. Something that had particularly attracted everyone in the audience’s attention was Traugh’s pair of granola sandals. Each time as needed, he had stepped onto the pedal board with them. An unusual but fascinating sight, Traugh had held the world upon the cusp of his sandals and the space that had divided it from the board. 

Next on the line-up was Sam Burton, who stemmed from in-between Salt Lake City and L.A., had furnished the stage with forbearingly halcyon underscores of rustic vocals and campestral notation. Tracks such as “Coming Down on Me” and “Maria” from his latest album release Dear Departed, accentuated his trademark for effortlessly sinuous vocal structures that flow across the instrumentals evenly. It was unfortunate that there were no orchestral and side-vocal backings present to further support such tracks that in their original recording, had this chordal facet. Because of this lack of reinforcement, the set felt slightly underwhelming. However, with the aid of a piano and drum accompaniment, the songs still provoked a certain air for what is pensive and brooding.

Amidst the set, Burton expressed that Iowa City is not what he had initially expected it to be, revealing that he was pleasantly surprised by the city’s unforeseen aura and atmosphere. Despite Burton’s set being on the lengthier side, his set was a good relaxant to ease the crowd between the other two sets. Mostly lyrical compositions on romance, specifically around the themes of attachment, courtship, and prurience, Burton’s songs provide the same essence as the “Harana”, a culture of ‘serenade songs’ specific to Filipino tradition. A key observation that I’ve grasped from Burton’s sound is that it speaks of love in such a way that heightens the ardor and fervor for admiration and adoration. The songs are brought upon the umbrella of affectionate introspection and rumination. 

Image via Anika Maculangan

As the last act, Kate Bollinger comes on. She embarks on a setlist, composed of songs played with her whole band, while some were played by herself, apace with her guitar which she seems to know all too well, as she emits a sense of comfortability while playing it. As soon as Bollinger and her band made their way to their stage, the crowd, particularly those in the front lines, are enamored and struck by Bollinger’s stage presence. This was accentuated even more so when she starts singing “Running“, her 2022 single release, which the audience, without fail, sang along to word-per-word.

There were some early troubles faced with the bass’ volume level, but this was soon sorted out, as it then sounded victoriously magnified for the rest of the set. The set had powerfully incisive drum beats, and clean yet repercussed vibrations of the guitar, where its sleekness and affinity for jangle-pop tonalities swimmingly complimented Bollinger’s glossy, polished vocals.

Influenced by the likes of Vashti Bunyan, Elyse Weinberg, and The Apples in Stereo, Bollinger encapsulates the utmost feel for ‘Freak Folk’ as she coalesces synth-like modulations to soothingly tempered strums of the guitar. Bollinger’s tonality even traverses across landscapes of what would be considered jazz and R&B. She takes little details from these genres and fuses them into a crisp sound that acts as a glue holding all of them into one melodic arrangement, in succession of whichever harmony Bollinger chooses next to effectuate.

Like a magician of sorts, Bollinger holds many tricks up her sleeve. When someone in the crowd requested her to play the song called “I Don’t Wanna Lose”, with no hesitation, she began playing the track. The song hadn’t initially been part of the show’s designated setlist, yet Bollinger had no skepticism or indecision when it came to playing it. This best exhibited Bollinger’s ability to play any of her songs on the spot, which also raises more recognition toward her capacity as a singer/songwriter.

This proves that all her songs derive and originate directly from her own accord. She knows the nature of these songs, in and out, much as it is apparent that these tracks have come straight from her imagination and creativity. As a last culmination of her mini retrospective, Bollinger plays “Lady in the Darkest Hour”, “You at Home”, and “Yards/Gardens”. Three songs which are celebrated favorites off the Bollinger discography. With this, Bollinger ceases the show in a more quirky, yet refreshingly outré fashion than ever. 

Image via Cat Dooley

In final tense, throughout listening to these three acts, they went satisfactorily well together. 24thankyou being concordant to Bollinger’s indie pop disposition, whereas Sam Burton for Bollinger’s folk orientation. Both extremities had managed to detail the amalgamation of the two, which Bollinger was able to epitomize and exemplify with her sound of duality.

However, what ultimately cements these three acts together were their sensibilities for a sound that brings pride to the ‘bedroom pop’ title. It gives respect toward artists who began independently crafting their music, as they take it to the venues with much more vast rooms than the ones they had written these songs in. This further augments Track Zero’s importance to the current music scene. Track Zero’s prevailing goal is to bring more exposure to artists who started out producing their own music autonomously, but are now ready and prepared to share their music with a larger pond of awareness. 

Kate Bollinger Set List:

  1. Running
  2. Who Am I But Someone
  3. What’s This About (La La La La)
  4. God Interlude
  5. Any Day Now
  6. Pictures of You
  7. To Your Own Devices
  8. Postcard from a Cloud
  9. Lady in the Darkest Hour
  10. You at Home
  11. Yards / Gardens