Essay: Progressions, Tracks, High Notes, Low Notes and Moving On From New York City

Casey Dexter
13 min readDec 20, 2023

--

Tracking the decision to move from New York City to London through the reviews of five albums of the year.

Kim Petras: Slut Pop, February 2022

‘This is slut pop, whip our dick out, turn your bitch out.’

Kim Petras goes all the way.

Leading us out of a long, dark winter, she’s a lifeboat of tits, ass, and power vocals. There is nothing covert about her music. No secret messaging or innuendo, she’s incredibly clear about what she wants. And it’s refreshing.

‘This is slut pop, get your tits out, do it right now.’

I don’t look like you average Kim Petras fan, but I think that’s partly why I’m so drawn to her. It’s not the sex exactly, that I’m after — although to each their own — it’s the commanding force in which she dominates her songs. If each of us had 2% of her confidence, I believe there would be greater world peace. It’s so clear how content she is with herself, that her music can be taken as seriously or camp-y as you wish. Either way, it’s impossible to not bob your head, shake your ass, or end up in a split — again, to each their own.

With songs titled “Throat Goat,” “Treat Me Like a Slut,” and “Superpower Bitch,” you can expect there to be deep bass, synth, and club beats in every track. Perfectly suited for dance floors in clubs and the workout playlists of all who aren’t afraid to admit they have sexual needs. Or even those who are afraid to admit they have sexual needs, and look to Kim as something of a fearless leader.

I went to Coachella in April as part of a work trip and was torn when I learned Kim Petras would be performing at the same time as Maggie Rogers. Assumedly, programming teams knew the overlap in fans would be minimal between folk/indie artist Maggie Rogers and Kim. One would claim the tamed, and the other would be left with the unruly.

That small scheduling conflict revealed a very deep insecurity of my own, one that I had long harbored, but was struggling with now more than ever in post-Covid New York City: where did I fit?

I love Maggie and Kim in separate ways. They are my different moods of calm, observational, quiet, and peaceful, but also loud, attention-seeking, extroverted, and exuberant. I know as people we are multi-faceted, that we can experience a depth of moods and attitudes. Yet, I still couldn’t help but think that I’d be more drawn to one certain way of life if I was just uglier or prettier. Or smarter or dumber. Or less aware, or more tuned in. Fatter, skinnier. Richer, poorer.

In my late-twenties I have friends that have kids and I have friends that do coke. I am neither, but I get along with both. So where do I fall?

I’m still figuring it out. Maybe New York City held the answer for me. Maybe it didn’t. But I believe the process of self-discovery shouldn’t be as daunting and upsetting as I sometimes feel it to be. The pressure of finding oneself often needs an escape. At the festival, I chose Kim.

Maren Morris: Humble Quest, March 2022

Humble Quest is Maren Morris’ third album, and it sounds like it.

What I mean is that it’s inherently Maren, but it sounds older, more mature, darker — which I think is safe to say can happen as we grow older.

Unlike the hopefulness in her debut and sophomore albums, we find a more retrospective version of the country singer. Songs are lower, slower, and are mostly centered around the stable tentpoles of her friends and family.

Because I am nosey (and follow her on Instagram), I know she had a baby during the pandemic, which was an incredibly difficult time for new mothers. I can only attribute this new sounding Maren to a woman who has more on her mind than just music. There’s been a shift in perspective and a shift in tone.

In her early released track, “Circles Around This Town,” Maren recalls the pain-staking and heartbreaking process of trying to break into the business in Nashville. Singing, ‘I’ve been kind and I’ve been ruthless / Yeah, got here but the truth is / Thought when I hit it, it’d all look different.’

Although I’ve never been to Nashville or sang country music a day in my life, I found the track to be entirely relatable. Seven years in New York City had me living a vastly different life than I’d expected from when I’d first arrived. Working on a television show, my career goal and life’s dream, nearly destroyed me. It was sad but relieving to hear Maren perplexed despite her success.

When I returned to New York City after quarantine, I was happy to be back. I had found myself in a slight state of ennui with the city in 2019, but the fresh restart was welcome. My first few months were spent catching up with old friends, taking my favorite walks, enjoying the freedom of living in a space that wasn’t my childhood bedroom.

As I noticed more and more of my favorite restaurants, bars, and shops closing, the money I had saved in my bank account dwindling, and business trips returning in a voracity that quickly launched me to Delta Silver Status within six months, the ennui returned. It didn’t matter that something as cool as Coachella was classified as a business trip. I was too burnt out. There was more on my mind than just the city.

Whether Maren meant to or not, her shift in perspective further perpetuated mine. I’d sit at my work from home desk, that was in my bedroom, which bordered my living room, which fed into the kitchen (I lived in a studio) and play her record and grow my melancholy further.

Some albums are meant to be sung loudly in the shower, some albums are meant to be enjoyed with tears and a glass of wine. Maren leaves it up to us. She puts us in the driver’s seat and asks if we were going around in circles or actually headed somewhere. I asked myself the same question.

Drake: Honestly, Nevermind, June 2022

Honestly, I’m just not that into Drake anymore.

He used to be The Man, the proprietor of Song of the Summer. Year to year with chart toppers like “One Dance,” “Hotline Bling,” “Nonstop,” “Fake Love,” “Popstar,” he created the soundtrack of my early twenties.

Drake narrated my late nights in bars, my bong hits in bedrooms, my rooftops in Brooklyn, my rides home in taxis, my hook ups in one-bedroom apartments flexed three ways (common with such high rent). He was my New York.

He’s consistent about putting out new music, which I commend, but at some point throughout my time in the city, less and less of his songs permeated mainstream pop. Nothing new was sticking. I imagine he was frustrated by this.

Which led him to create Honestly, Nevermind.

It’s not a bad album. But it’s not Drake. It’s an amalgamation of 2022 Gen-Z music trends. Light house, steady synth, background music with light vocals. I saw a meme of someone calling it “H&M shopping” music and I thought that described it well. So desperate to be back in the charts, Drake clung to what was already popular, and in doing so, completely lost any semblance of self.

In the sticky doldrums of June, I felt like New York City had done the same. My boredom peaked, uninterested in the newly opened latte-art cafes and freshly erected flower walls. The city had become a playground for photo-hungry influencers. So desperate to build back to its glory post-Covid, the island succumbed to internet trends and unoriginality.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I stopped being a Drake fan. While this album cemented that feeling, I had already fallen out of his trance months, if not years, ago.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I stopped liking New York City, either.

I’m aware that Joan Didion wrote nearly this exact sentence in her essay “Goodbye to All That.”

‘I can remember now with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck restrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay a finger upon the moment it ended.’[1]

While she is Joan Didion, and I am just me, we do share that we both decided to leave New York City at twenty-eight years old (however, she left the city with a partner so maybe that’s where our similarities end).

I find twenty-eight to be perhaps the most confusing age I’ve ever lived. Too old for post-college bars, too young for members’ only clubs, too poor to own property, too seasoned to live among cockroaches. Not ready for children but exhausted from the dating scene. Not a beginner, but not taken seriously enough at work. These issues are universal, but in New York, they felt stifling. I didn’t want to live in this city forever, carrying strollers down the Subway and avoiding flashers.

Didion wrote, ‘It was distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair.’[2]

Where is Drake in all of this? He is still at the Fair. Knees bumping against the safety bar on the roller-coaster, heart burning from the processed corn dog, annoyed that his designer shoes are getting muddy. But he’s still there. And I’m not staying any longer.

Rosalia: Motomami, March 2022

This album came out in March, but I wasn’t aware of its existence until September 2022. Therefore, in the auditory timeline of my life, Rosalia will always represent the end of summer and the precipice of something new.

At the end of August, I decided I was moving to London.

On my last night in New York City, my friend invited me to see Rosalia at Radio City Music Hall. With nothing at home besides an air mattress and a few boxes, I accepted, never having listened to much of the Spanish pop singer besides a couple mainstream hits. I had already eaten my last pizza slice at Keste, shopped at Monk Vintage in Williamsburg, played my last pickleball match at Brooklyn Bridge Pier, and said goodbye to the few friends I told (having never been the type for a “going away” party). Somehow a concert of someone I knew little of felt apt. I was ready to disassociate with The City.

Enter: Motomami.

Motomami isn’t simply the name of Rosalia’s third album. It’s a mood, an attitude. A bad bitch with tenacity, power, and something to say. She embraces the persona, or maybe that is her persona, entering the stage wearing a motorcycle helmet, backup dancers in tow. She has such effortless swag you want to hate her. Except she’s such a talented performer, skilled singer, and overall creative visionary (mixing pop with classic Flamenco-style music) that I was simply left in awe.

She lifts her helmet, revealing a stunning face of winged-eyeliner and bright-colored lips, and launches into “Saoko,” “Candy,” and “Bizcochito.” Most of her songs are in Spanish, some in Spanglish, staying true to herself and her Barcelona roots, but I’d argue anyone can understand her message. Her energy tells a clear story. Her dancers amplify her power. The Steadicams surrounding her surge clear confidence to the stage screens. She is on a mission to be heard.

As she dominates song by song (going in album order), the singer wipes her sweat with a white stage towel, maybe even the same white stage towel I spent years bringing to green rooms as a Production Assistant in 30 Rockefeller Plaza. At the end of ballad “Hentai,” with high notes so haunting I felt my skin prickle, my toes wiggle, Rosalia grabs the towel for the last time.

She wipes her face for at least thirty seconds. The reveal? All her makeup is gone. Rosalia stands before us, exhausted, vulnerable, unsullied and proud.

Maybe I was looking for meaning, maybe I was looking for a sign, an omen, a prediction. On the runway of change, I am that person who checks their horoscope and finds themselves smiling when they catch the clock at 11:11. I didn’t really know Rosalia yet (I would go home to listen to her album on repeat for months to come), but seeing her triumph in a foreign country, unafraid of using her native voice, unhiding behind easy covers and disguises, I felt inspired. I was ready for my move.

Lane 8: Reviver, January 2022 / Reviver Remixed, December 2022

I review both of Lane 8’s albums at the same time, because while they were released almost a year apart, the second album would not be possible with the first. The remixed edition only exists because the originals were made.

Going back to January 2022, I was quite lonely.

I was finishing up my first novel and editing chapters before and after work almost every day. Weekends were a chance to dedicate my full brain to writing, before Monday came around and the cycle started again. It was very hard to maintain a social life and utilize my energy for a full-time job and a serious passion project. I hate the term “passion project,” but seeing as I wasn’t a published author yet, I was unconvinced that I could take myself seriously.

A huge part of my writing was done while listening to music with little to no lyrics. A huge part of my writing was done while listening to Lane 8.

He is my favorite DJ. I don’t have a favorite color or favorite flavor of ice cream. I don’t have a favorite shirt or favorite movie. I find myself too varied in taste and get stressed when trying to identify what makes me, “me” (refer to the Kim Petras review). But saying Lane 8 is my favorite DJ is the one thing I can do. I find him able to hold all of my moods and emotions in simplistic, uncomplicated rhythms.

Reviver feels like a hug. It’s 80s synth-pop mixed with electronica, indie, and European techno beats. It provided comfort in a time in which I felt like I had very little. When I was on edge about deadlines, or my lack of a boyfriend, or unfulfillment in my career, Reviver was aural Xanax.

During Coachella, a work duty trumped Lane 8’s set, much to my dismay. He and I were but a desert field apart, yet I was unable to see him. I had imagined so many times feeling the swell of “Illuminate,” my favorite track, or the drop of “What Have You Done To Me?” in person. Amplified by the professional mega-stage sound quality of the festival, the rush would overtake every sense and envelope me entirely. It would have been the listening experience of a lifetime. I’m still not over it.

Reviver stayed with me after the book was done, accompanying me on flights for work or ferries to Brooklyn. The songs became so familiar I craved them in unnecessary places: Whole Foods, Zara, the Pret line at Penn Station.

I listened to the full album for nearly a year.

When it was time to move, I packed my boxes in New York City and unpacked them in London and Reviver played on.

But sometimes bringing something habitual, recognizable somewhere new has an adverse effect. While I felt pacified, soothed by the music, I began to crave something more. Something that matched my new commute on the tube, that was unique to grocery shopping in Waitrose or my weekend walks through Clapham Common. Something that New York didn’t have.

Lane 8 is my favorite DJ because, somehow, he recognized this.

As if to say, “Casey, I understand,” he released Reviver Remixed in December 2022. Maybe he, too, felt like he needed a fresh spin. Maybe events in his life called for change, regrowth, displacement. Or maybe I was just looking for a sign again.

Either way I found that the remixed album, with touches from artists like Le Youth and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs instilled in me an endurance. Beats are held longer, drops in bass are bigger, patterns emerge in places they once weren’t found. New notes are added, even vocals heighten once quieter riffs. The songs are not “new,” but they are enhanced. It’s still the same album, but it’s dyed its hair, changed its clothes, taken up an exercise routine. There’s nothing wrong with the old album, I still love it, but how nice it is to see something take a leap.

In January 2023, I seldom feel lonely.

I live ten minutes away from my sister, I’ve made friends, I date men with manners, I travel to new countries. It’s a privilege and I’m grateful.

I have not forgotten New York City. Without my seven years in Manhattan, navigating a city like London would feel impossible. But it is because of those years that I can enjoy this next chapter.

Sometimes all we really need is a remix.

Whether Lane 8 will remain my favorite DJ, whether his next album will satiate me in the same way as his last, whether he even puts out a new song again, I am not to say. It is dangerous how quickly I am sucked in by the future. For now, I’ll refrain from ruining what is good.

In this moment I feel lighter. I feel happy.

I feel revived.

Bibliography

Didion, Joan (1968). ‘Goodbye to All That’ in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 225–238.

[1] Didion, Joan (1968). ‘Goodbye to All That’ in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 225

[2] Didion, 1968, p. 236

--

--

Casey Dexter

Casey lives in London and works in publishing and entertainment. caseydexter.org