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New Musical Express: April 2024 Edition

New Musical Express with John's Music Blog

A chat with Emma Kohlmann, a bunch of songs, and an attempt to stay positive.

By John Chiaverina


New Musical Express is an exploration of the fractured and confusing contemporary music landscape, written by a failed musician who is one mental breakdown away from moving back to the Midwest and working at a gas station.

There is no doubt about it. Things are not so great online. When talking about the state of media and culture on the internet, it wouldn’t be hard to slip into Gen-X cosplay: everything is doomed; look at all the sheeple going after their easy dopamine fixes. And the people who make it their brand to say that kind of shit aren’t wrong. All you have to do is spend some time on any social media network to figure that out. But I’m not sure if those pundits are telling the whole story, either. 

One of the reasons I continue to invest time and energy in looking for new music on the internet is that it forces me to communicate with culture in good faith. It’s a practice that curbs my more misanthropic impulses and taps into a spirit that, however fleetingly, has the ability to transcend the current context. I’ll let someone else complain about “the infinite scroll.” I just want to yell at you about a few songs I like. 

Welcome back, my friends, to New Musical Express with John’s Music Blog. This month, we have an interview with the Western Massachusetts-based artist Emma Kohlmann, the New Musical Express Top Five, and all sorts of other shit.



Though she works in a variety of media, Emma Kohlmann is probably best known for art made using watercolor and ink. Kohlmann recently released a new book with Anthology Editions. Fittingly, it’s called Watercolors. The book is over 300 pages of flowing, gestural images that cohere into a defined world; it also comes with a trilogy of essays by Audrey Wollen, LD Deutsch, and Mark Iosifescu. I gave Kohlmann a call to talk about the new book, and of course, what kind of stuff she has been listening to in the studio. 

I read that you're a big fan of Antiques Roadshow. Is that something you have playing when you're working? 

Emma Kohlmann: No, it's usually what I watch when I get home. I watch the BBC version because it's crazy, just the shit that they find in the ground in the UK, like a 2000-year-old ring. It's fascinating. It also makes me want to find treasure or find something in my backyard, even though there's nothing there. In the studio, I'll listen to audiobooks or tapes. I'm really into having tapes in the studio. 

So, you have a lot of tapes?

Yeah, I actually just found one of those cassette holders at the thrift store that could fit all of my tapes, which is the first time ever that has happened, because I've been carrying these tapes around for 10 years, just in piles. So I reorganized it all and my sister bought me a vintage Sony boombox. 

What books have you been listening to?

Well, I just finished a book that was recommended to me. It's a memoir by Viva superstar’s daughter, Don't Call Me Home. It chronicles her life growing up with her mother, who was a muse of Andy Warhol, who was just this extreme, eccentric, amazing person. She lived in the Chelsea Hotel and moved around a lot, but it’s a cute, kind of romantic New York memoir. 

Do you have that actually on cassette tape? 

No, no, no, not on cassette tape, no way. On audiobook. 

I just had the idea that a small press publisher could do a new audiobook on actual cassette tape. Has that been done? 

I don't think so, but you should do that. 

It’s a funny idea because you would need like six tapes. Maybe it would be better for a 30 page poetry collection. 

If it was a bunch of different poets, it could be like each person reads their own poem, instead of doing a reading. 

You run a press, so maybe you could do this at some point. 

My sister would be so down. She also loves tapes. But I also love CDs. I got really into making mix CDs during the pandemic, and my car had a six-disc CD changer, and it was just the best. Get tired of one CD, go to the next, and you memorize your own mixes, the songs that come after one another. 

You go to thrift stores a lot. It seems like a real buyer’s market for CDs?

Yes, it is. People don't want CDs because they're still kind of shitty. If you buy them at the thrift store, there's the danger of them skipping, but they're so cheap. But I wanted to get a wide array and have my whole collection and not use Spotify ever. Because I prefer having the physical thing.

Speaking of physical media. Your new book took three years to make? 

I used to draw or paint every day and I would make these stacks of watercolors and go to the library in town and scan all the images. And so I had been doing that for 10 years and I just amassed so many images. I’m organized, but not that organized. So things were all over the place in my Dropbox. It was just sorting—they had to sort through all this stuff and it was a lot to even start compiling or making something that made sense in book form. 

How many pages is it? 

It's like 350. 

That's a lot of images. 

Yeah. And there's three essays and there are full page images. So there are a lot of images, but it’s not even a third of what I have, which is cool, because I also think it would be an incredibly boring book after a while. 

Anthology, from what I've seen, they do a thorough job.

Yeah, they're very thorough. It took maybe two months to color match. They work with this printer in China that is amazing. The wet proof took so long to get to me, because they were vetoing every single one because it didn't match correctly. So, the final proof of the color matching was actually perfect. The colors in the book match almost identically to the real watercolors, which is crazy, because even when I've printed my own thing, it's really hard to do that.

I read that your studio space is in a former paper mill?

It's a massive building. There are a ton of old derelict factories where I live and they converted some of them into studio spaces. But this one's been around since, I think, the nineties. It’s like five blocks long. It's huge. The top floor, they converted into condos. But I've been here for so long. I've been in so many different buildings now that this is kind of the nicest one, but the most expensive because they keep it up. 

This is that new school New England warehouse?

Yeah. But it's interesting, though, because I think I was one of the first ones in the area to make it into a workspace. I used to actually rent a space that they didn't keep up as nicely, but it was so cheap and still beautiful, with massive windows. And it was significantly less because they just didn't do anything to it. Which is also kind of nice. 

It’s hard to have it all.

I think it's cool because there's so many old factory buildings like this in New England, and it’s a thing that people do. They buy them and make them into art studios. 

So what's your breakdown of spoken word to music when you’re in the studio?

It's 50-50. It really depends on the day. Like, today it's snowing and I kind of want to listen to some jazz or something. I don't know. 

Some lo-fi chill hip-hop beats to study to? 

Yeah, or something romantic, like Chet Baker. Which is kind of corny, but I don't know. And also, it feels like sometimes I tune out when I listen to spoken word stuff, which is so funny to say. I kind of tune it out in a way more than I do with music. 

I've talked to painters before who say that they watch movies while they paint, and  because they barely pay attention, they have to watch the same one like four times. 

I would have a really hard time. I don't have internet in my studio. I try not to be on my phone, which is really hard. Nowadays, I like having minimal distractions, but I can understand watching a movie. I'll have to go back a lot of the time—like, in this past book, it took me a while to get to the end because I kept on forgetting to listen to it. 

When your work is in the foreground, the consumption's gonna be sort of scattered in an interesting way. 

There are problems when you're painting. Something happens and you're having a hard time. And then, I almost feel like everything disappears. I have to have no music or no stories. I forget about everything around me. 

Yeah, there’s that and then there's the grunt work time where you need some audio to keep going. 

Yeah, it's like cheering you on or helping you. Which is the best. That's the most delicious time to listen to something. 


1. J.P. - Bad Bitty

The Milwaukee hit parade keeps marching. This is pure American dance music, both eternal and stuck to the present with bubblegum. “Bad Bitty” is strong enough to power through the spring and keep rocking into the summer. It will be the soundtrack to late-night fast food runs and fog-filled club ragers. Those 8th-note 808 claps have a way of burrowing deep into your dome piece. Those autotune-coated vocal melodies take you back and forward at the same time.

2. Dogs In Ecstasy - BALLAD OF A FUTURE CHAD

  • 7WEB
  • 13WAIT4 ME

My old friends Dogs In Ecstasy make some of the best damaged pop rock songs in the business. In the past, they have written tunes from the perspective of a paranoid Phil Spector, a devilish sound engineer, and drag legend Jinkx Monsoon. Their recently-released collection of demos features a song called “YES CHEF” (sung through the eyes of Gordon Ramsey), and this one, which was inspired by a New York Magazine article about incels who get “extreme plastic surgery to become ‘chads.’” What could’ve been a pretty good one-liner ends up being more tragic and funny than it has any right to be. 

3. Tim Reaper - Off the Top Rope

It’s still early in the year, but I’m calling it. It’s going to be difficult to find a harder jungle track than “Off the Top Rope.” For one thing, it starts with a 1980s-sounding sample, a loop that only recently did my dumb ass realize was used by Jay-Z during the intro of The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. And then another thing: as YouTube user @ecrylian states, Reaper plays “the Amen like a damn fiddle,” dropping choppy sections in and out of jumpier, squiggly passages. Timeless breakbeat hardcore. 

4. TisaKorean - Ucci

TisaKorean keeps getting better and better. In a world of total shit, he is a beacon of joyous light. Here, he builds on some of the more candy-coated strains of American rap—circa-2009 Atlanta rap; Chicago-style bop music—and pushes that music to triumphant new heights. If “Ucci” isn’t working for you, may I suggest taking a silent walk through the woods, or maybe meditating for a bit? Then put the song back on. A reason for living!  

5. Lysol - Sonic Thrill

Lysol is a band from the Pacific Northwest that play a hardcore-informed version of garage. “Sonic Thrill” is taken from a recently-reissued EP, and as much as Seattle or Olympia, it makes me think about Cleveland, Green Bay, or any other godforsaken Rust Belt city where the Old Thompson flows like water, and there are probably dozens of bands who have already written a song with a title very similar to “Sonic Thrill.” It’s the musical equivalent of a horizontal striped shirt paired with a denim jacket, and I’m fucking with it. 

Forest Management - New York Seltzer

True to its title, New York Seltzer opens up with almost two minutes of straw-slurping sounds, which might be the truest manifestation of American noise music I have ever heard. I know that the legendary Yellow Tears worked a lot with the gargle, but did they ever explore the slurp? What's the history of soda in noise music? Anyway, the rest of the record is good, tweaked ambient, but I keep playing that first cut—I need a full album of harsh straw noise.


Go Me - Don’t Forget To (Shake It)

  • 1Go Me - Don't Forget To (Shake It)
  • 2Go Me - Play Button
  • 3Go Me - Play Button (Attic Party Mix)

The term electro house has been warped beyond recognition, but there was a time in the 2000s when it pointed towards forward-thinking, fun dance music with a bit of a “rock and roll attitude”—stuff like Tiga, Felix Da Housecat, and Alter Ego. “Don’t Forget To (Shake It)” is a contemporary update on that energy and feels primed for nu-indie club play. Someone get it over to The Dare!

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