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Debut album ‘Sublimation’ and more

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Debut album ‘Sublimation’ and more

In Hebrew, “Shalom” has three meanings, one of which is “peace.” Shalom Obisi-Orlu is still looking for hers, but the singer/songwriter is getting closer every day to finding it. It’s been a journey, though, and not one that most Americans can understand. Born in Maryland, raised in South Africa and currently based in Brooklyn, Shalom has moved twice in the past three months after living in a “racially hostile” apartment where a white roommate repeatedly sang a racially offensive song. “She just kept using the ‘N’ word after I talked to her about it,” Shalom says, visibly exhausted. “And she said, ‘I’m Jewish. I didn’t write the song. It was so absurd.”

Against the background of severe personal clashes like these, Shalom is also experiencing the most successful musical year of his life. After several years of playing solo gigs with bands around New Brunswick (Shalom attended Rutgers University, where she received her BA in 2021), she signed with indie-rock torchbearer Saddle Creek Records last summer. The label’s A&Rs stumbled upon Shalom’s first self-released track, the meditative, aching “Concrete,” plus several other home-recorded demos that she compiled into an EP, the first snowstorm of the yearin December 2020

Saddle Creek connects her with producer/DJ Ryan Hemsworth, who has worked on tracks for Tinashe, Tory Lanez and Mitski, among others. In 2020, Hemsworth signed with Saddle Creek under the moniker Quarter-Life Crisis and released a self-titled EP featuring guest spots from Charlie Martin, Hand Habits, Frances Quinlan, Claud and Yohuna. When he and Shalom started writing together on Zoom, ostensibly for Quarter-Life Crisis, they produced so much so quickly – including the already released ‘DTAP’, a cover of Hovvdy’s ‘True Love’, ‘Bad To The Bone’ and Glass Animals cover of ‘Agnes’ – this Saddle Creek said, “You and Ryan should just do an EP.”

Four songs turned into seven songs, and before Shalom knew it, she was encouraged to complete a full-fledged LP. This work, titled Sublimation, will be released on March 10. It’s easy to see why Hemsworth and Shalom work so seamlessly; both are quick and prolific writers, and both have a natural ear for hooks. “He really understands my brain,” says Shalom. “Sometimes I don’t speak like a human. For example, I said to him, “Imagine that sound, but if it was like cereal milk. If you put all the cereal in it except the chocolate cereal – it’s milk. So, it’s not just brown because it has different colored grains in it. But there is no brown in it. And he said, “You’re weird, boy. I got you.’ And then he got it. He just understands me very well. And I felt really misunderstood for a long time growing up. It’s really special when I can level up with someone and just be like, “This is what my brain is doing.”

Shalom’s studio style of communication may be uniquely metaphorical, but her lyrics are brutally direct and radically honest. Upbeat lead single “Happenstance,” one of our favorite tracks of the week since its release, sounds outwardly joyful, with layered, driving percussion and an animated piano melody. Lyrically, however, Shalom vents his frustration: “I’m waiting for the day when I can finally get rid of all this shit/ I’m sitting in my room practicing how to be cool but I can’t do it/ I’ve been trying hard enough with the roommate mi and she’s bad for a nurse, but anyway/ It wasn’t enough and my life weighs on my chest.’

On the “Soccer Mommy” chanting wall of sound, Shalom recalls listening to the headliner’s song Color theory LP was the only thing that kept her calm while learning to drive. “I’m terrible at driving, but I’ve always felt brave listening to ‘Circle The Drain’ on 287 South,” Shalom said in a statement when Saddle Creek released the track in early February. “I was on a lot of drugs before I turned 21/ I took two pills once a week for a whole month straight,” Shalom sings in near monotone, then turns the camera on himself in the moment: “Now it’s been enough time to know what, fuck it up/ I present to you Her Royal Highness, this is me — I’m a royal motherfucker/ Driving around listening to Soccer Mommy/ Whispering I’m so sorry/ About the girl you ate alive.”

Sublimation is a remarkable debut, an opening statement that draws you in with magnetic pop melodies and blunt candor. But despite what’s sure to be a wave of positive coverage surrounding the album, Shalom, who also lives with bipolar disorder, is tight-lipped about her ongoing struggles, which include the aforementioned job search and lack of health insurance. “My medicine is really expensive,” she says. “I don’t have insurance and Latuda is $1,500 for 30 pills. I can’t help but accept it either. In addition to various psychiatric prescriptions, Shalom self-medicates with weed, which she says “has the most profound effect” on her. During our Zoom conversation, Shalom periodically stops mid-thought to inhale from a towering yellow bong. “If I have a panic attack, like shaking, crying, screaming, throwing up, if I crack the bong, I’ll be fine… I can just go to bed right away.”

Shalom’s weariness crystallized on the latter Sublimation single, “Lighter,” a mid-tempo ballad about feeling all kinds of burnt out. “I’m a super tough guy, but I’m really exhausted by this,” Shalom admits. “I’m tired of these ‘Elle Woods in the Pink Bunny’ moments.” Like, [quoting from Legally Blonde] “I’m gonna show you how valuable Elle Woods can be.” I mean, me willbut who writes this? Can you send me as a judge for one season? Can I chill for a minute? I have lived for the last five years and I have not had a single minute. And when I had a minute, it was like I went to LA for two weeks and I was still working. I work all the time.”

At the same time, “Lighter” really means personal triumph. “The song got me started liking herself, she says. “I wrote it in 45 minutes, sent it to Ryan and then the next morning I woke up and he gave me the mix back. As I listened to it, I said to myself, “I did this. Objectively, this is excellent. Surely I can’t be rubbish if that’s what I’m doing!’

At no point does Shalom try to paint a white primer over his daily life, which is simultaneously filled with potential energy all around Sublimationimpending release and anxiety about her fragile living situation, work, medication and money. On the one hand, Shalom’s experience is typical of your average young adult trying to make it in a ruthless city. On the other hand, this person and her life are anything but ordinary.

One of five siblings, Shalom left Johannesburg for America after attending the local university for a year. “And then I got robbed six times in 2016,” she says. “I thought, this is enough. I have to go now.” Getting to New York has always been Shalom’s goal. “For my 18th birthday, my sister bought me a guidebook to New York because I was obsessed with New York and Brooklyn. It was like my big dream. I went to Rutgers because it was close to New York, I could be there by train. [But] when I came to New York I was really disappointed. I was like, “It smells like garbage and it’s too hot.” ​​South Johannesburg is not as humid as it always is. I felt like I was swallowing water.”

Soon, however, Shalom began going to the city for concerts, seeing bands like LANY and Walk The Moon live. Well before picking up the bass in 2019, Shalom blogged independently and wrote freelance articles for millennial-focused online publications such as Everyday feminism and Hi Giggles. “I’m basically using my trauma for money,” Shalom says wistfully.

A few years later, Shalom bought his first bass at Guitar Center and learned to play. “I really love the bass, I really love the sound of it,” she says. “When I started going to concerts in New Brunswick, I started really studying these bands. And I said to myself: “Of everything [the members], your bass player has the power. People move because of your bass player. If your rhythm section is tight in the basement, it doesn’t matter. If you’re playing a hollow-body guitar in the basement, you’re screwed for sound; the feedback will be terrible. But if your bass player and your drummer can hold it down, the basement will pop. And those are just the rules.”

Although a product of her aforementioned mess, Sublimation is also “a look at what life has been like for me since I moved to America.” Shalom then outlines a scenario: “Imagine you live on the other side of the world. Then, when he was 19, he just packed up all his stuff and moved [to the US]. And you are already a person to whom many strange things have happened.

“The songs are processed for me,” she continues. “I hold a lot in my body. If I’m really upset about something, for example, it literally hurts. But if I sit down and I’m like, “Okay, it’s coming out,” after it comes out, I don’t have to hold it the whole time. I can still reach through song, but I don’t need to have it on all the time. Now it lives there because I don’t want to keep it anymore.”

Reworking her emotions into song is also a way for Shalom to live out her namesake. “My mother is very good about the meaning of names,” says Shalom. “She was telling me yesterday, ‘Shalom, I always tell you, don’t worry. Just relax. You will live up to your name. You will have peace.” Or as a rabbi once told her, “The truest meaning of ‘Shalom’ is to destroy the power associated with chaos.” It is to get rid of the thing that thinks it can control the chaos. This is peace.”

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