By Brendan Nagle
Like a guitar-wielding lovechild of The Blow and Regina Spektor, 20-year-old Sidney Gish crafts catchy lo-fi songs with wry, self-deprecating lyrics. Sound familiar? If you are at all in tune with the current indie du jour, then it probably does. But in a marketplace flooded with Frankie Cosmos look-alikes, Gish’s particular brand of bedroom pop stands out.
A Music Business major at Northeastern University, Gish has been writing songs since she was in middle school, but only began sharing them recently. Though a relative newcomer, her self-released albums have quickly generated serious buzz in and beyond her local Boston scene. She brings a youthful humor to her songwriting that is likely to charm most listeners.
Retaining the witty, endearingly self-conscious lyricism that made 2016’s “Ed Buys Houses” a favorite amongst Bandcamp connoisseurs, she takes a big step forward sonically with her newest album, “No Dogs Allowed.” The fairly straightforward pop songs of her previous album (which you might justly, if reductively, label as Frankie Cosmos look-alikes) give way to a more complex sound here, complete with rich harmonies, key changes and MIDI synths galore. Gish’s music feels much less indebted to the grimy indie rock championed by so many of her peers; rather, her sound is more in line with idiosyncratic singer-songwriters like Fiona Apple and Ingrid Michaelson, but with a distinctly 2010s internet-kid flavor.
“No Dogs Allowed” exhibits a unique melodic sensibility that makes Gish easy to separate from today’s crowded field of indie pop. On “Sin Triangle,” her lilting voice intertwines itself with sauntering guitar riffs, backed by chords that are jazzier than one might have expected to find. But despite their elevated complexity, Gish’s songs undoubtedly still have an earworm quality.
“And on an accident, I’m like Japan / Before they went and traded stuff to other lands,” she sings, comparing, in comical fashion, her own isolationist tendencies to Japan’s famed Edo period.
Diffident engagement with academic subjects comes up again later in “Persephone.” “I’ve called Persephone / By the name purse-a-phone / Greek goddesses aren’t what / You grab when leaving home,” Gish sings, her beautiful falsetto belying the joke she’s cracking at her own expense. Gish’s twee sense of humor may come off as obnoxious in print, but she pulls it off remarkably well on the record. She is able to project playful self-awareness without it seeming like she is trying too hard. References to “The Matrix” and magician analogies alike feel natural coming out of her mouth.
Backed by a bouncing bassline and in-your-face electronic drums, Gish ruminates on her imminent adulthood on “I Eat Salads Now.” “It pains me to say but / Maybe I’ve grown out of this / I’m a businessman / I don’t waste time on shit.” She is disturbed by the passion and excitement that she feels is slipping away along with her childhood.
“Mouth Log” speaks to the same sort of young adult frustration: “Probably when I’m 22 / Then I’ll be doing something new… I hate class / And I hate work / And doing nothing’s even worse.” Here she sounds at her most sincere, and though they are simple, the lyrics have a relatable poignancy. Levity eventually returns, however; she concludes the song by circling back to the opening line, where she confesses to keeping a phone list of the food she eats and the people she kisses, with lighthearted disregard. “I’m kinda pissed if this is the real me / At least I know who I kissed and what I eat.”
I cannot help but feel charmed by Gish’s blithe pop songs and hyper-conscious approach to lyricism. As a 20-year-old myself, I find her demeanor acutely authentic — and painfully familiar. “No Dogs Allowed” is a uniquely impressive work of introspection bursting with personality and charisma, and with it Gish has established herself as a promising young songwriter.