It’s 2018. Bitcoin Billionaires, Instagram influencers and Russian Hackers rule the world. Uber and Tinder dominate the way we approach love and transportation. It seems clear what direction we are headed in 2019. Some of us are worried; some of us are ambivalent. However, almost all of us are looking for ways to navigate this postmodern maze. Howard’s latest album, Together Alone, does just that. The album explores how technology gives us an unencumbered connection to our peers, all while isolating us further from each other.
Ironically enough, it is through technology that I connect with Howard Feibusch, the lead vocalist and guitarist of the band. It isn’t until I call Feibusch to chat about the paradox of technology that I realize the irony. I get to know Feibusch a bit through our conversation, but I’m only scratching the surface—his mannerisms, quirks and facial reactions elude me. But nonetheless, our chat proves to be enlightening.
Before we dive too deep into discussions of the future, we go back and reflect on Feibusch’s previous work: the 2015 album Religion and the 2016 EP Please Recycle. Religion, largely a DIY project for Feibusch and the rest of his Brooklyn-based band (Alex Chakour-guitar synth vocals, Myles Heffernan-bass, Chris Holdridge-drums), uses a delicate combination of acoustic melodies and electronic embellishments to create a unique sound that critics deemed “folktronica.” Then Howard did the unthinkable by revisiting the album in a completely revelatory way. Please Recycle, which functions more like a concept album, uses material solely from Religion to create a remixed, rearranged, restructured, remastered, resurfaced, reduced, reused and namely recycled creation. It’s like night and day between the two releases, and yet when you boil them down they are made from the same flesh and blood. It was completely groundbreaking.
Now, Feibusch has decided to once again take things in a whole new direction: back to basics. Together Alone integrates the natural sounds of the band, and relies less on manufactured studio effects. “I used to wait for a cool sound. [For this album] I was just waiting for something to resonate and feel good. Cool production and cool sounds are so easily accessible for anyone making music because technology has made it that way. That’s not to say there’s no value or merit in it. It just wasn’t as exciting to me as it used to be.”
That shift wasn’t easy for Feibusch. Feibusch found it hard to start fresh after deeply immersing himself in Religion and Please Recycle, “Starting over was debilitating for a while. I went through lots of ups and downs and pretty difficult periods of paralyzing writer’s block. It was a really intense search.”
Feibusch began to find inspiration as he distanced himself from the world. He removed himself from social media and began doing some sonic soul-searching. “Spotify was pretty detrimental to my music listening. It was just a time to take a step back and be like, ‘Woah we’re flooded with information, we’re flooded with connection, we’re flooded with music, we’re flooded with art, we’re flooded with images.’ Being outside of it was isolating.” The isolation Feibusch endured ended up breeding authenticity. Feibusch let the band’s true sound emerge, rather than letting the musical zeitgeist dictate their approach.
The outcome is an album that expresses what it feels like to be submerged in the Information Age. It’s emotionally stirring and poignant. Feibusch and I agree that the highlight is the title track, “Together Alone.” The song glitters with the gentle tinkering of a music box and ghostly lyrics. The song transports you back to your childhood room—a place where you spent hours playing, thinking and dreaming. “There’s something about a music box that is so nostalgic. It’s a way to guide a listener a little bit more inside themselves.” Maybe it’s time for us all to take a break from the numbingly endless social media scroll, and tune in to something a little more self-reflexive for a change. So on your next time you take a sick day, mental health day, treat yourself day, or just flat out play hookie, pop in Together Alone and get to know yourself a bit.
Written By: Tori Adams
Photos By: Sonya Kitchell