No Dogs Allowed
December 31, 2017
Northeastern student and budding artist Sidney Gish’s second album, No Dogs Allowed, is all about what comes after the coming-of-age: When you are just a “20 something” and all the allotted life-changing milestones seem have to flown by, but you still have no idea where you’re going or what you’re doing or how to even be.
None of this is so strongly evoked as in ‘Mouth Log,’ one of the darker tracks with lines like, “Just like a hate-watched series, I catalog life dearly, dreary how-tos on half-assed self abuse” and “I’m kinda pissed if this is the real me.” And then in ‘Imposter Syndrome’: “What’s a way to just be competent, every other day I’m wondering, was it a mistake to try and define, what I’m certain’s mad incompetence.” It’s an exuberant exercise in self-deprecation and self-examination.
Opening track ‘Bird Tutorial’ sets an eccentric and instrument-heavy vibe for the rest of the album, as Gish overlays a recording about teaching a parakeet to talk with a campy guitar melody and a tambourine, two sounds that appear relentlessly in the rest of the album. The acoustic tunes make it hard to listen without tapping your feet or bobbing your head, which remains true for all other songs. ‘Good Magicians’ and ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ are examples of Gish relying less on the depth of her lyrics and more on her vocal and instrumental range. As a solo artist, she’s put together a sound that is genuinely fresh but at a first listen, the tracks seem to blend together. It’s after several listens that the sounds become more distinguished so in this sense, there is still room for her to experiment with different beats.
Gish’s awkward comedic humor finds its way into her music, specifically in songs like ‘Persephone’ where she mispronounces Persephone in a myriad of ways, but always with a stubborn commitment to her character: “But I’ll mispronounce and mis-accent for infinity, there isn’t much that you could do to stop me.” Or like in her dreamy ‘Not But For You, Bunny’ where she serenades her pet rabbit with plenty of ooo’s.
But beyond the feel-good vibes and the exuberant instrumental arrangement, Gish manages to transmit so much feeling through her lyrics, that are almost always a clever play on words or making unusual references. When reviewing her first album, Ed Buys Houses, Gold Flake Paint’s Trevor Elkin put it as songs that “prod at those nerves in your stomach that toughened up over the years, until you feel like you’re back in class, not knowing the answer and everyone is staring at you.” Funny and sad, there is no shying away from any unsatisfactory reality, whether it be isolating yourself from your crush or identifying as 97% hikikomori.
In ‘Rat of the City,’ with her bittersweet tunes and dreamy blending of vocal layers, Gish captures the frustrating, doubt-inducing journey that is finding your individual self among the masses. This sentiment is emphasized on as Gish croons over and over again, “I don’t know who I am, I don’t know what to do but I’m not a lot like you.”
The samples Gish uses throughout the album are seemingly straightforward, but within the context of the album they manage to resonate more deeply like in ‘Sin Triangle,’ “Did you ever want, so much, to make a good impression on someone? What did you do? How accepted was your personality? Did you ever feel alone? Out of place, when you wanted very much to be part of the group? What did you do?” There is something about the simplicity that packs a punch.
What Gish does best though, is putting into words the downright depressing, painfully cringy situations that come with being a young adult, the very real process of figuring out how to be a person and where you fit in in all this mess, without sounding like an overly dramatic thirteen year old. Gish spends much of the album grappling with “these sweet instincts” and their life-ruining tendencies. But if these are the instincts that led to No Dogs Allowed, can they be that damning?