A space to be truly seen: Evelyn Gray with Mooncha, Gilliver, & Pleasuremad

Album cover!

“The vibe here is so queer and so beautiful” — Mooncha

On Saturday night, it was an honor to be at the album release show for Evelyn Gray’s Let the Flower Grow. Four acts with dramatically different sounds — Pleasuremad (psych-pop), Gilliver (doom folk grunge), Mooncha (hip hop), and Gray (ambient singer-songwriter) — were united by a common theme of becoming visible as your true self.

Pleasuremad

Pleasuremad uses an electropop idiom to deconstruct the excesses of modern life and explore “living queer in Hartford.” Jack put on an intensely vulnerable set, sharing new songs — one touching song about being happy and relaxed with housemates was so new, it had been finished that day.

The closing song, “The Stride,” was the one I fell in love with — the song’s gentle sway from nightmarish music box to lullaby to Beatles-esque anthem reinforces an emotional tension between “walking through life with headphones on” and living “in the foreground” where “a new song is rising.” Also definitely check out Jack’s lengthy interview with Aislinn (about music, being non-binary, and returning to Connecticut) and last fall’s Pleasuremad album, Where the Tragic Happens, which explores gender, visibility, and self-knowledge.

Gilliver

Gilliver puts a wall of passionate sound on stage. I was fumbling with “well, this is sort of like country, but…. but…” and then found the Take feature where Molly Brown explains being influenced primarily by “doom metal and traditional Bulgarian women’s choir music.” That’s exactly it — Gilliver is from the alternative universe where folk rock was an outgrowth of doom metal. (The more you think about it, the more revealing an idea that becomes, yes?)

Ironically, what I have for you here is toward the ballad end, emphasizing the Bulgarian choir roots, because it was a sweet, dust-laden mood. For the full experience, check out Gilded Lily, which combines the wistful desolation of Cowboy Junkies with pithy percussion.

Mooncha

Mooncha is a party and a revolution packed in one energetic body with dance-able beats and compelling stage presence. Yes, that’s a priest’s outfit. Costume is part of the gender-fluid rapper’s stage persona — and you can learn more about this one at Ashley Laure’s photo-essay on LGBTQ persons and faith in the Courant. Getting out there and preaching salvation seems a natural fit for Mooncha — I dare you not to raise your hands, sway, and shout hallelujah in response. Mooncha’s 2019 EP, N/R/G/, is a bop with provocation for social change.

Since Mooncha directly asked the audience to pay attention to issues that affect people of color in Connecticut — as a starting point, I’m going to head you toward this essay, where leaders of the Greater New Haven African-American Historical Society put current social and economic issues in historic context and call for African-American history to be part of the school curriculum. It’s a starting point, not an end point.

Evelyn Gray

Evelyn Gray’s new album, Let the Flower Grow, is a confessional, aurally challenging exploration of her experiences in becoming visible as a trans woman. (For background on how the album was written and recorded at Sam Carlson’s Sans Serif, dive into Karen Ponzio’s detailed interview with Gray in the Independent.)

If Mooncha’s set is the gospel of social change with arm-waving hallelujahs, Gray’s is an intimate moment of community gathering in a sacred space outside of time. Her electric-guitar-focused instrumentation uses discord and distortion effects to integrate the audience’s discordant emotions into an invisible wall around the event, making it safe for revealing deeply vulnerable sentiments.

Early in the set, Gray introduces a song about coming out — “for anyone who’s tired of having the same conversation over and over and over again, just waiting for something to change.” If the resonance with “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” is accidental, it shouldn’t be. While the songs are often about pushing against constraints and struggling for visibility, the overall impact in airing these feelings is liberating.

You’ll notice from the angle of the video that there was a consensus toward sitting on the floor. This isn’t music to dance to — it’s music to experience as a gift, turn over gently in your hands, and feel it unfold. The final song (the one in the video below) was a magical moment. Here is this aural landscape that’s complex, that’s full of struggle, that’s not simple or happy — and it resonates in your bones to clean out tension and self-doubt, leaving in the wake of the final prolonged notes, an incredible sense of peace.

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