In late May, exactly two weeks before her 34th birthday, LA-based singer-songwriter Miya Folick released her sophomore album ROACH. In spite of the similarities of musical style of this album and much of her previous work, ROACH stands out as a raw and heartrending culmination of her growth and existential experience collected throughout the five years since the release of her debut LP Premonitions. ROACH is a minimalistic overthrow of her previous typical “sad indie girl” musical style, combining her unmatched musical and poetic talent with strong themes that surely would resonate with most people of my generation. She celebrates her newfound maturity and confidence in her identity, highlighting, among others, the overarching theme of the album that rarely appears in many modern indie albums – perseverance and grit. As a long-time follower of Folick's journey since her first EP Strange Darlings, I feel compelled to guide readers through this album and highlight what might be her best work to date.
First, I would like to note that my opinion on ROACH is perhaps slightly biased by my dedication to Miya Folick’s artistic journey. ROACH feels like a satisfying continuation of her growth as an artist, masterfully incorporating a variety of musical influences from different artists and sub-genres of indie rock. To me, the only album comparable in its profound impact on my personal existential longing is Lorde’s Melodrama, released when I was barely fifteen. The comparison of ROACH to arguably one of the most formative works of our generation may seem like a stretch to some, but I will try my best to convince our reader of the unique perspective on growing up that Miya Folick offers to her listeners in her second album.
Composed of 13 tracks, ROACH unfolds as a coherent narrative of Folick’s journey through her quarter-life crisis, touching on a variety of different themes, ranging from the classic post-breakup reflections to her struggles with body image, sobriety and understanding of her complicated heritage. The first track, “Oh God”, offers a retrospective view on Folick’s relationship with religion: raised as a Jōdo Shinshū Buddhist, she addresses her youthful rejection of any religious authority, opting instead for a careless and naïve view of the world that we often found ourselves in our early twenties (“Spending all my twenties not believing anything”). It feels like a strong and quite unconventional opening to an indie album, immediately giving the audience a taste of Folick’s depth of thought and reflection on her youthful maximalism.
A discussion of her religious doubt transitions into a contemplation of the choices that she made when she was younger that are alluded to in the first track. “Bad Thing” is one of those songs that most people in their twenties (and even older) can relate to, so there is no question about why this has become her most popular song from ROACH. “I did a bad thing, I wasn’t thinking” is an almost universal sentiment of those who we consider to have lived their college life to the fullest, highlighting the regrets that all of us have about things that we did when we reveled in the newly discovered independence of early twenties. This is also the song where we first encounter a major theme of Folick’s journey towards existential maturity and rejection of her youthful ideals – sobriety (“fake friends and chemical temptations”). She inevitably comes back to her dedication to staying sober in later tracks, and “Bad Thing” is our first introduction to her changing relationship with drugs. But besides all, this is a certified banger. Musically, “Bad Thing” is a very danceable piece, but it is also perfectly suitable for a cathartic hairbrush karaoke performance late at night in your room (especially if you can reach her piercing falsetto in the second chorus).
Next comes perhaps the angriest track on the whole album, “Get Out Of My House”. With a steady rhythm guitar and emotional screaming vocals, this is one of the two songs that are centered around a break-up. Folick screams at her ex to get out of her house, both literally and figuratively, while simultaneously raving about all the wonderful things that she discovers about herself after she is finally free from the relationship. In a sense, this is a hymn of joy celebrating an escape from a toxic relationship without losing her sense of self, which often happens at the end of a long-term relationship ("Thought I needed your glow, needed you to be home, but I’m better alone, woo!”). No shade, but I think that “Get Out of My House” is what that “abcdefu” song could have been if it tried hard enough.
The post-breakup reflection continues on “Nothing To See”, a minimalistic cry of loss of something so dear, yet so painful. Miya Folick fully gives into her grief and exposes the most vulnerable parts of herself, both physically and emotionally. She looks back at her immense desire to keep her ex-partner from leaving her with regret, asking herself “Why did I do that?”. A simple repeating guitar melody, akin to the stuff you would see in In Rainbows, lies at the heart of the song, while her vocals take an unpredictable turn in the second part chorus: instead of going down the harmony to come back to the base note, she takes advantage of her incredible voice range to raise the emotional impact of the shattering “Said I would never be desperate, look at me,” her voice breaking one the last three words in a cry of despair. In my opinion, this is one the most powerful songs on the album. Folick shows the pain of her loss and anguish of trying to change herself to make her partner love her, which is something that I personally struggled with a while in high school and early college. The line “I’ve been trying to change the way you look so you like what you see, I’ve been losing weight so I can wear these Dollskill jeans” hit me like a train. It is not often that an artist is able to so accurately and honestly depict the struggles with body image that translate into your self-worth when you are stuck in a toxic relationship. Folick is not afraid to lay her feelings out in the lyrics with brutal honesty, and this is something that can be very inspiring for those who recently went through a painful breakup.
“Drugs or People” comes back to the theme of sobriety and self-doubt in an agonizing recognition of her flaws and fear of never being loved again. The song is a metaphorical warning to her future partner (“You think you can handle me, but baby, you can’t”) that encompasses Folick’s remaining beliefs of her incompleteness, but yet it shows how hard she has worked on herself and her sobriety to rekindle her love for herself (“I’m trying not to use drugs or people”, “But I’m through with playing games, yeah I’m done with getting high”). The whispering vocals on the bridge are gentle, but very sincere – she says that she is ready to open herself up to someone new, but is afraid of hurting them and herself in the process. The best part of the song is the subtle astrology reference at the end of the bridge (“But you’ve gotta help me help myself ‘cause I’m a Gemini”), which I could strongly relate to as a fellow Gemini. Maybe this is why “Drugs or People” spoke to me more than most songs on the album.
ROACH takes an unexpected thematic turn with the next track, “Mommy”. She centers her song on her long and complicated relationship with her family heritage; being half-Japanese but raised in a very individualistic culture of Los Angeles, Folick reflects on her relationship with her family in a warm and loving way while questioning her similarities to her parents and how that shaped her identity (“If I am the kin of my kin, where do my parents end and where do I begin?”). Reminiscing about the impact that your childhood had on your identity is an important part of mental growth; it is a transition from rejecting the overwhelming care of your family in favor of independence to a more mature understanding of the unique perspective that your cultural and familial upbringing offers to you as you grow up. Musically, “Mommy” has a generally very gentle and calm soundscape, especially in the beginning when Folick talks about her relationship with her mother, but it gets more intense and instrumentally diverse as Folick thinks about how similar she is to her father in ways that she seems not particularly fond of (“Daddy always wanted everyone to like him, I think I’m just like him”). The line is followed by a hypnotizing solo of an instrument that sounds somewhere between a kazoo and a saxophone, a musical culmination of Folick’s contemplation of her heritage.
Another ode to the growth that Miya Folick experienced in the last 5 years appears in the middle of the album, on the track “2007”. She dedicates the song to the newly-discovered love of life, the desire to get away from her fears and learn to enjoy the smallest moments of joy that she was longing for in her youth full of self-doubt. “I wanna smile real big, I wanna fucking live” is a powerful message that allows Miya to free herself from being tied up in her fears of being hurt or disliked by other people – another struggle that many of us face throughout our quarter-life crises. She talks about her fears of being embarrassed, body shamed, abandoned, and most importantly, the fear of never experiencing the simplest pleasures of life, like singing karaoke and meeting strangers. Folick is determined to change her approach to life for the better and reject her long-standing doubts of her self-worth that have been preventing her from enjoying the unique experiences of her life. This is not a careless chase of bliss that you can get from drugs or a rush to try everything without thinking of consequences – this is a mature and grown-up revision of her life journey, a rediscovered love of life encompassed in a 4-minute track.
The second half of ROACH begins with an instrumental semi-title track “Cockroach”. It is truly a hymn of perseverance and strength that Folick strived to communicate in each of her songs on the album. It can be easily considered as some kind of interlude, but unlike many albums where an interlude serves as more of a break between two very different tracks, “Cockroach” is arguably the most important song on the album. The main line that repeats two times at the beginning of the song, “I’m a fucking cockroach and you can’t kill me”, perfectly communicates the duality of Folick’s self-perception: a universally hated little creature, a cockroach, is shown in a new light of incredible strength and grit that she takes pride in. She exclaims “Crush me” over and over for the rest of the song, as if to dare the cruelty of life and people who hurt her to try to break her down again. Although the feelings of significance on a larger scale continue to haunt her, she has determination and hope for a better life, and is ready to resist whatever the universe is going to throw her way. This is truly a powerful song, despite its limited lyrical content and minimalistic, repetitive production.
“Tetherball” is undeservingly the least listened song on the album (according to Spotify statistics). Out of the entire album, it has the most innovative and unconventional production, combining a monotonous synth progression with a syncopated beat that comes out of nowhere. Echoed background vocals are supported by Folick’s signature shrieking voice that communicates her emotions like nothing else. The lyrics are also worth noting for their ingenuity and poetic language: “I can read the price tag, but keep scraping off the label” gets across a unique sentiment of denying the consequences despite being acutely aware of them. The first verse clearly alludes to her past drug problems, which were apparent to her, but she refused to openly recognize them and admit that she needs help – something that she states over and over in many other songs on the album. “It’s harder to get better than to lie, lie, lie” points to her inability to ask for help, which is also something that I felt very deeply. After a brief pause, the last verse brings back the cockroach comparison, but this time she feels more helpless and insignificant rather than resilient. However, the theme of perseverance shines through once again in the last line, where Folick, at her lowest point, finally decides to ask for help, “for another start”. An overall devastating song, “Tetherball” manages to combine conflicting feelings that Folick has about herself and turn the tone of the song more hopeful on the last line, a happy-ish ending of sorts.
“Cartoon Clouds” is a dedication to Folick’s long-standing struggles with mental health, her emotional volatility that she is learning to embrace instead of rejecting. She seems ashamed of her mental struggles, invalidating her feelings towards the world and judging herself for “being gloomy”. She is seemingly trying to channel her dissatisfaction with life in a more positive direction, and genuinely accept that she deserves to feel good, an important step in coming to terms with your mental health struggles. We can see that she is still far from fully accepting her emotional anguish, but she recognizes that she is not obligated to feel good all the time, rejecting the forced positivity that we tend to encounter when we share our struggles with others. Folick is looking for a balance between looking at life through rose-colored glasses (something that seems to have stuck with her from her youthful carelessness) and fully denying her negative feelings and invalidating her struggles. As the title suggests, the song has a very “cartoony” feeling to it, with an overwhelmingly positive melody and central message of the chorus, similar to the tone of children’s cartoons that always have a happy ending where the good guys always win. In Folick’s newly discovered perspective, she shows us that real life is not like that, and instead full of struggles that are an indispensable part of growing up and maturing.
Moving towards the end of the album, we have a very MUNA/Jack Antonoff-inspired dance track, “So Clear”. It is a feel-good song that circles back to her pride in her perseverance, singing “I pull myself out of the dust”, as if to say “Look at me, I did that myself, and you can do it too!”. In the song, she is gleaming with pride of what she was able to accomplish on her own and how much she has grown over the years. It feels like a sudden realization of her worth (“So suddenly so clear to me”), which in reality represents many years of maturing as an adult and accepting herself as she is. The track brings up the transformation of her fear of loneliness into enjoyment of her own company. It’s an empowering anthem of self-love that is almost guaranteed to make you feel more hopeful about your future.
“Ordinary”, the second-to-last song on ROACH, is a slow ballad that highlights how much pleasure one can get from the simplest things in life that we often don’t pay attention to. Trying to feel whole and collect all pieces of her identity in a complete picture, she is ready to accept that her expectations of what life should feel like are often unreachable: “I can’t have it all, and I wouldn’t want to”. “Ordinary” feels like a stripped version of a much more instrumentally complex song, creating a somber, but very accepting atmosphere throughout the whole song. It is a gentle reminder for the audience that living an ordinary life is something that can be enjoyable on its own, and that striving for excellence and an extraordinary experience is, in most cases, unachievable, often bringing more doubt and dissatisfaction than feelings of success.
Folick finished her album with a love letter to her hometown, LA, in the form of a melancholic piano serenade “Shortstop”. She describes coming back home for the first time in a while, noting all the feelings that accompany a return to the place that made her the way she is. With a new perspective on life, she is perceptive to all the small things about her hometown that she took for granted before, like seeing the sunrise from Griffith Park or noticing a tag on the Hollywood sign. Along with that, “Shortstop” is a summary of everything that she has learned during her period of growth and emotional maturing, and the way these life lessons made her feel closer to her generation and the people around her. She is rejecting the narrative of how her life “should” go according to society (“If you don’t smoke yet, you’ll be smoking”, “Get your work hard/play safe balance”), and is instead choosing her own path independent of what is expected of her – as a young woman, as an artist, as a queer person, as a daughter, as a lover and as a friend. She empathizes with her audience, saying that we all long to belong somewhere and how often we feel the ever-present existential loneliness. “Meet me at the shortstop, no need to get dressed up”, she says, offering a comforting helping hand to those who are still on their journey of self-acceptance. It is okay to live an ordinary life, and the small moments of joy that compose our lives can be that much more satisfying than an exceptional life full of adventure and fame.
After this extensive review of ROACH, our readers might find themselves questioning how my previously mentioned similarities to Lorde’s Melodrama are even relevant here. In fact, the two albums are practically opposite to each other, with Lorde praising a fast life full of excitement and momentary decisions that aim to get as much pleasure out of life as possible. It is an anthem of what it means to be young, chasing your dreams and feeling the high of independence for the first time in your life. This is why Melodrama had such a profound impact on me when I was 15 – it showed me what life can feel like and how much excitement awaits me in the future. ROACH, on the other hand, seems to embrace the ordinariness of life and reminisces about being nineteen in a more cautious and even regretful way. However, ROACH somehow feels like a logical continuation of what growing up is like – looking back at her early twenties, Miya Folick does not particularly condemn her careless lifestyle, but instead argues that things that we valued when we were young may not seem as important as you age. Things like family, home, friends and learning how to enjoy your own company can bring you just as much (if not more) joy as drugs, momentary romances, impromptu road trips and sleepless nights. The “Perfect Places” that Lorde, along with our entire generation, is seeking for at nineteen may have been under our noses the entire time.
Written by Maria Kravtsova