The conditions of modern world are almost invariably exhausting. If it’s not the burden of unchained capitalism or trenchant patriarchy that you’re contending with on a given day, well there’s always the looming threat of nuclear war to worry about. The list of the other global and communitarian injustices that consume the brainspace of thoughtful people around the world is too long to even really recount here. The point is, there is no escape, which is what makes the opening lines on ocala wick, the new album by Brooklyn-based songwriter gobbinjr—born Emma Witmer, land so hard. “I’m going to work high,” she sings, accompanied by the tense thrum of an acoustic guitar. “I’m sitting at work high. I’m smoking at work…hi nice to meet you.”
The heavy shit creeps in as the song goes on, Witmer detailing the internal turmoil of unwanted staring from uncaring men (“If I act like I’m not there, maybe he’ll leave me alone.”) Who could blame her for starting the day with a spliff, or starting a song with a joke? That’s sorta the way it goes, you take what consolation you can get.
Witmer’s songs as gobbinjr over the last few years have largely worked in this way, weaving together intimate emotional landscapes and goofy jokes—she apparently originally named the project after her bong—using vulnerability as a sort of “armor,” as she puts it, against the weight of the world.
“One thing this project has shown me is that there is so much power in vulnerability,” she says via email. “Once you take down your defenses, no one can harm you. It seems like kind of faulty logic, but there’s sort of an inner armor that vulnerability provides. It’s one that doesn’t shut out criticisms on your work but considers it, embraces it, and lets it go.”
In some senses, as that opening track “afraid of me” suggests, ocala wick is one of her most open gestures yet. She says the record deals heavily with “unreciprocated and unsolicited advances by men” that she’s experienced, and that the process of making it “brought out a sort of anger as to why I feel so alone.” She says she started writing the songs when she moved to New York four years ago, during which she’s played and worked at a lot of different shows.
“The immediate sexualization of me in my place of work really got to me,” she says. “I’m never going to be at a show looking to hook up with someone. That’s not something I do. But many people, almost always men, treat me as if that’s what I’m looking for. Years of unknown men groping and kissing and persisting and grabbing where they shouldn’t inspired the songs.”
That plays out with both venom and humor, often at the same time, like on “Fake Bitch,” a light-sounding ballad with sprightly handclaps that opens with a horrifying—and depressingly familiar-sounding image: “I felt you press your dick against my thigh / When we hugged / I didn’t ask for it / You’re not the one I want.” It’s tonally confusing, which Witmer acknowledges. She says that it gets “nauseating sometimes, communicating to a population about shared ugly experiences,” but that she uses the laughs and paradoxes as a way of processing these heavier moments.
“I think the humor is sort of a mask I put up when I’m being vulnerable,” she says. “It helps chew up the heavy thoughts into bite sized emotions. It’s sort of like ‘If I can laugh at it then it can’t get to me.’ I think it’s easier on the ears and minds of the listener to hear something funny than something incredibly depressing.”
Witmer has favored a similar approach throughout her previous records, but something about ocala wick feels even more impactful—it’s both more funny and more biting. Emotionally, the songs full of higher highs and lower lows—appropriate for a society seemingly spinning further out of control by the day. Witmer seems to intend these tracks, even when they’re about the heavy stuff, as something of a life raft. She sings as much, on one of the record’s most moving moments, toward the end of “sorry charlie”: “Those who acknowledge the world is wrong / might find some solace in a song.” If you’re lucky, you could find some peace here too, amidst the jokes about weed and moving stories about dealing with terrible men.
gobbinjr’s ocala wick is out June 8 on Topshelf, but you can stream it in full up above.